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Advani no-death offer to secure Salem

New Delhi, Sept. 21: Keen to ensure that underworld don Abu Salem does not slip out of India’s reach again, deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani today said New Delhi would give a written assurance to the Portuguese government that he would not face the death penalty back home.

Delhi has sought the deportation of Abu Salem Qayyum Ansari, who was arrested by the Portuguese authorities in Lisbon on Wednesday.

Salem, along with Dawood Ibrahim, has been on top of India’s most-wanted list for many years, primarily as one of the five accused in the 1993 serial blasts in Mumbai. He has a long list of cases against him, including the Rajdhani train blast in 1997, several murders and extortion cases. Under Indian law, if convicted for his role in the Mumbai blasts, which killed over 200 people, Salem would be liable to get the death penalty.

But Portugal, as a member of the European Union, is against capital punishment. Under a EU convention, an offender is not handed over to a country where the law allows the death penalty.

It is possible that unless New Delhi gives Lisbon an assurance to the contrary, he may not be deported or extradited.

Last November, Salem had been detained in Sharjah, but bungling by Indian police, particularly the delay in identifying him, allowed him to get away. New Delhi wants to make sure there is no repeat of the Sharjah fiasco.

The authorities are keen to question Salem and extract as much information as possible from him. New Delhi believes Pakistan’s ISI had a hand in the Mumbai blasts and intelligence officials are hoping to get valuable inputs about ISI activityin India from Salem.

CBI director P.C. Sharma told reporters “our stress is on getting information from him regarding the Mumbai blasts in which he played a key role. There may be other cases also which we can look into later”.

The CBI is happy with the cooperation extended by the Portuguese. Salem will be kept in judicial custody for 90 days, giving New Delhi enough time to get its act together.

Advani said in Bhubaneswar today a note verbale (formal statement of position) has been sent to Portugal, asking for Salem’s deportation to Delhi.

Hopes are high as India shares excellent relations with Portugal. The first India-EU summit took place in Lisbon when Portugal held the EU presidency. After the summit, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee stayed for bilateral talks.

The CBI chief said Salem’s arrest was a result of a red-corner notice issued by the Interpol. Three months ago, the Portuguese Interpol had tipped off CBI, its Indian counterpart, that the Mumbai blast accused could be in Lisbon. His arrest followed three months of intense surveillance, including “fruitful and meaningful” contacts with the FBI and Portuguese authorities, Sharma explained.

The CBI had provided Salem’s fingerprints and photograph to the Portuguese police around August. This helped establish the don’s identity in the Lisbon court as Salem had a Pakistani passport when he was arrested, Sharma said.

The CBI had found out that Salem had got residence permit in Portugal in the name of Arsalan Mohsin Ali. Monica Bedi, the starlet Salem is said to have married, also had a residence permit in the name of Sana Malik Kamal. Both Salem and Bedi were arrested on charges of possessing false identity documents.

A CBI team will leave for Portugal but the composition of the team was being done in consultation with the diplomatic corps and the Portuguese authorities. Though India would be delighted to have Salem deported, if that is not possible, New Delhi will have to fall back on the lengthy extradition procedure. India does not have an extradition treaty with Portugal. But India is confident that Salem will be brought back home.

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