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Portugal jail cloud on Salem return trip

New Delhi, Oct. 8: Underworld don Abu Salem may have to serve his sentence in Portugal before he is handed over to India, Portuguese authorities have indicated.

A lot would depend on what the Portuguese court decides to do with the gangster, who is facing charges of entering the country with false documents. According to the country’s laws, he could be sentenced for three years.

Indian officials are preparing for the worst-case scenario. “Even if he is given the maximum punishment, it is a good development as this will mean Salem will be out of circulation for three years,” a South Block official said, pointing out that in the intervening period, the Indian team would prepare a case for deportation that could satisfy the court in Lisbon. Delhi has sought Salem’s deportation.

Foreign minister Yashwant Sinha, who wrote to his Portuguese counterpart Antonio Marteas da Cruz, said if Lisbon deported Salem, the move “will be vital” to the fight against global terrorism. India and the European Union, of which Portugal is a part, had signed an agreement last November to cooperate on international terrorism. Sinha argued that not only did Salem take part in terrorist activities in India, he had links with international terrorist groups.

Delhi is trying to convince Lisbon that the cases for which Salem is wanted are far more serious than the charges on which he has been arrested in Portugal. India is also trying to work on Portugal so that Salem is given the shortest possible sentence.

One problem the government is facing has to do with the domestic audience. They are having a tough time explaining that whether Salem is extradited or deported, the process is long drawn. Since his arrest, people in India have been expecting that the Mumbai blasts accused will be brought back soon.

The disappointment was palpable when the CBI team returned here last night from Lisbon without Salem. “Somehow or the other, there was an impression” that the CBI team will return with Salem, a South Block official said. He added that irrespective of India’s request, getting Salem back would be a time-consuming affair.

CBI director P.C. Sharma expressed a similar view. “We are dealing with a criminal who is away in a different democratic country. We have to show utmost respect to their laws and everything will take time,” he told reporters. Sharma said a criminal profile of Salem, who is wanted in India in 71 cases, has been handed over to Portuguese authorities.

Sharma said the CBI team had explained Indian laws to Portuguese officials and had gathered “a thorough knowledge” about their laws.

“Our future strategy will be based within the two legal frameworks and I don’t rule out the possibility of sending another team to Lisbon.”

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