The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Delhi doubles Salem pledge

New Delhi, Sept. 24: India has given a “sovereign guarantee” to Portugal that Abu Salem will not be given a death penalty and even if he is given a life sentence for his crimes, it will not exceed 25 years in prison.

Still, attempts to get the Mumbai don deported from Lisbon seem to have run into serious problems. The government is now exploring ways to have Salem extradited to the country.

A sovereign guarantee is an undertaking given by the government on behalf of the President, who is the head of state. In recent years, it was given to Enron as a counter-guarantee to assure the American power giant that if the Maharashtra government failed to pay for the electricity, the Centre would shell out the money. But this time, it’s being given on a political issue.

A European Union agreement, to which Portugal is a party, stipulates that a person cannot be deported or extradited to a country where he is likely to face a death penalty. It is also against any prison sentence that goes beyond 25 years.

Foreign minister Yashwant Sinha, who wrote to his Portuguese counterpart Haime Gama yesterday, seeking Salem’s deportation, gave guarantees on both capital punishment and the 25-year clause for life sentence to Lisbon. But if the stress till yesterday was on deportation, the situation seems to have changed after the initial feedback that Delhi got from the Portuguese capital.

The problem stems from the fact that Salem, who was arrested with false travel documents in Lisbon, is now in judicial remand. Under Portuguese law, the punishment for travelling with false papers is three years’ imprisonment.

The local court is already involved in the Salem case and it seems that India’s attempts to get him deported — which would have been an executive decision — will not be enough to bypass the Portuguese judiciary.

The possible difficulties are not lost on Delhi, as was proved by Sinha holding several meetings during the day with home secretary Kamal Pande, CBI director P.C. Sharma and other senior officials to discuss the case and how best to bring it to an early resolution.

A team of officials of the investigating team, the foreign ministry and legal experts will leave for Lisbon soon. But they will go there only after Gama responds to Sinha’s request.

India does not have an extradition treaty with Portugal, but legal eagles believe that should not come in Delhi’s way. The two sides can still work out an agreement to get Salem extradited.

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