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Abu Salem case shows Dawood's extradition is possible

By Sheela Bhatt in Mumbai
Last updated on: November 16, 2005 14:12 IST
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The extradition of underworld don Abu Salem was a tribute to the co-ordination among the Central Bureau of Investigation, the ministry of home affairs, the ministry of external affairs and the Indian embassy in Lisbon, Portugal, and was made possible by the excellent co-operation received from the Portuguese authorities.

The extradition was a landmark event for many reasons.

Abu Salem had undergone plastic surgery in a South American country, and his actual visage at the time of his arrest in Lisbon was different from the photograph sent by the Central Bureau of Investigation to the Portuguese authorities. However, the CBI officers managed to establish his real identity through his fingerprints and thus convince the Lisbon court.

Complete coverage: Abu Salem's extradition

Intelligence sources also say the Portuguese police and the local court were convinced of the validity of the CBI's evidence relating to Salem's involvement in terrorism activities in India.

The Abu Salem episode is a turning point in India's fight against terrorism with global links, said a senior source in CBI.

For one, there is no extradition treaty between India and Portugal. The absence of such a treaty initially created legal difficulties but, wisely, the Indian government sought his extradition under the United Nations Convention on Suppression of Terrorism of 2000 under which all member nations have to help each other in the war against terrorism.

Portugal and India are both signatories to the Convention.

In the meantime, the Portuguese court sentenced Salem and his girlfriend Monica Bedi to four years imprisonment for illegally entering and staying in Portugal on forged passports. The court also ordered that their extradition could be made only after they have completed their prison term.

However, at the end of two years Salem and Bedi's lawyers moved the court for their release on parole on the ground that their behaviour in jail was 'exemplary'. The jail authorities too confirmed their lawyer's claims.

Salem's lawyer assured the court that his client will voluntarily go to India once he is released on parole and expressed his readiness to surrender to the Indian police.

Abu Salem: a dossier

When the CBI got to know of Salem's plea the Portuguese lawyer representing the Indian government rushed to the court to remind the judge about his previous order about extraditing the duo on completing their 4-year sentence.

India pleaded that instead of being released on parole, they should be extradited. The court accepted their request and gave India one of the most elusive legal victories.

But Salem and Bedi were not willing to throw in the towel so easily. The couple -- who are said to be extremely motivated, focussed and calculating -- rushed to seek the intervention of the European Court of Human Rights, which refused to intervene in the matter.

Mumbai police can try Abu Salem in two cases only

Monica, who is a fighter by nature, kept avoiding India till the last moment. She even applied for political asylum in Norway where her parents are settled and where she had grown up. The liberal Norway turned down her request because of her conviction for travelling on a false Indian passport.

While Abu Salem did not enjoy any public support in Portugal, Monica enjoyed much sympathy because not only is she a pretty face, but also comes across as innocent. Added to this is her articulateness on various issues.

In Lisbon, she gave many interviews to the media in which she sounded quite convincing; on the basis of this many human rights organisations took up her case, but not Abu Salem's.

Monica was so desperate to not return to India that she even tried to seek the intervention of the Catholic Church by claiming that she had embraced Christianity.

However, her somewhat melodramatic efforts failed.

Finally the Portuguese court ordered their extradition after the Indian government, through its lawyer, gave a solemn assurance that if convicted they would not be sentenced to death. If this commitment is not kept, it could affect future extradition requests from India. Interestingly, Home Minister Shivraj Patil said on Tuesday 'the government cannot interfere with the judicial process and ask the courts not to award him capital punishment. But it has the power under the statute to commute a case of death sentence.'

The Portuguese authorities were surprised when the Indian government sent an Air Force plane (used by one of the defence-related establishments) to fly the couple to India. They were worried that Abu Salem's lawyers could move the court saying this mode of transport created doubts about the Indian government's intentions. Fortunately, the lawyers did not come to know of this and Abu Salem was brought to Mumbai.

The huge expense incurred on bringing Salem to trial in India can be debated but there is no doubt the CBI's efforts will prove a deterrent for terrorists hiding outside India.

It will also send a strong message to Dawood Ibrahim and others that laws against terrorism, and international cooperation, could catch up with them if they travel out of their safe environs in Pakistan.

The Abu Salem case has paved the way for Indian intelligence officers and investigators to move for Dawood Ibrahim's extradition from Pakistan under the UN convention by citing the Portuguese precedent.

India must say a heartfelt thank you to the Portuguese government.

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Sheela Bhatt in Mumbai