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Delhi dismisses setback to stay in Salem hunt

New Delhi, Sept. 22: The government will go ahead and seek the deportation of underworld don Abu Salem in spite of a reported adverse ruling by a Lisbon-based court.

The CBI and junior foreign minister Digvijay Singh denied that the ruling was a blow to the government’s efforts to bring back the fugitive, accused in the serial bomb blasts in Mumbai in 1993. Both Singh and CBI director P.C. Sharma feigned ignorance about the court ruling, declining to confirm the authenticity of the report.

Singh said the Portuguese authorities were fully cooperating with Indian agencies. “We are constantly in touch with them. We are extremely confident that we will get Salem to India,” he said. The government is keeping all options open on the deportation or extradition of the gangster and his actress companion, Monica Bedi.

Sharma said the CBI was working out a strategy with the Union government for Salem’s handover to India. He, however, warned that it could be a long-drawn process.

A report by the Luca news agency based in Lisbon had said a court had ruled against deporting 41-year-old Salem.

Unfazed by the development, Sharma said the CBI would still send a team to Lisbon to bring Salem back to India. “We are putting together evidence to make out a strong case for his extradition to the Portuguese authorities,” he said.

On Friday, Interpol asked the CBI to prepare papers for Salem’s extradition, though such a process would involve court procedures, which are not required in deportation where the prerogative lies with the host government. Salem has since been sent to 90 days’ judicial custody. The CBI is confident that it will be able to either extradite or deport Salem within the stipulated time.

Privately, Indian officials insisted that the court ruling might not be the last word on the issue and the government would intensify diplomatic efforts and coordinate with Interpol and other agencies.

Singh said the government is also studying Portuguese laws and considering making use of UN resolution number 1373 that makes it obligatory for nations to hand over persons wanted in connection with terrorism.

In a clear attempt to highlight his alleged terrorist links, deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani has said Salem was a conduit in the funding of Osama bin Laden’s al Qaida network.

“There may be substance in this as he (Salem) has been out for so long, but this can be known only when we get him here and examine him,” the CBI director said.

India does not have an extradition treaty with Portugal. In any case, being a signatory to a European Union convention, Portugal will not extradite a person if there is a possibility of him being given the death penalty in his home country. Official sources hinted at the possibility of Portugal being given a written assurance that Salem would not be executed even if found guilty.

 

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