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Bleach threatens fast

Calcutta, Sept. 2: Jailed Purulia arms-drop suspect Peter Bleach last night vowed to go on hunger strike “until death” in protest at his continued imprisonment, along with fresh legal moves against him by Customs authorities in Mumbai.

The British arms dealer, sentenced to life imprisonment seven years ago for his involvement in the December 1995 arms-drop operation, issued a written petition to his prison superintendent at Alipore jail here, threatening to begin a hunger strike from Monday unless a showcause notice issued by Mumbai airport Customs is withdrawn.

Last Sunday, he received the notice, which requested his appearance before a Mumbai court on September 11 to answer charges under the Customs act relating to the impounding of the aircraft used in the operation, along with foreign currency and light arms recovered at the scene of arrest at Mumbai airport.

Mumbai Customs claims that it seized the items concerned, including a Russian aircraft, pistols, rifles and ammunition, but the statements conflict with their claims during Bleach’s 1996 trial, denying possession of the items and saying they were seized by Bengal CID.

“During my trial, the commissioner of Customs, Mumbai, denied having seized any items and claimed that all items were seized by West Bengal CID,” Bleach wrote in his petition. “I have no intention whatsoever of spending the rest of my life in an Indian jail on the basis of blatantly corrupt and falsified evidence.

“I have asked that the British High Commission in New Delhi take up this matter with the Union government and inform them that if the matter was not resolved by September 8, 2003, I would commence a hunger strike until death on that day.”

Bleach ruled out appearing at the Mumbai court hearing, claiming severe health conditions meant, he believed, he “would not reach Mumbai alive”.

Officials at the British deputy high commission in Calcutta reacted to the news with dismay.

“We have received a letter from Bleach informing us of his intention to go on hunger strike,” confirmed head of mission Paul Walsh. “We have also seen a copy of the showcause notice.... I intend to visit Bleach early next week and urge him not to go ahead with this.”

Legal activist Deepak Pralahdka, a longstanding campaigner for Bleach’s release, dismissed the showcause notice as “false” and rejected the possibility of travelling to Mumbai outright.

Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani had pledged to review the possibility of an early release during a diplomatic visit to London in June, following a series of requests from British Prime Minister Tony Blair to set Bleach free on grounds of equal treatment before the law.

Five Latvians convicted to life imprisonment alongside Bleach were freed in 2001 following the direct intervention of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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