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‘Conman’ who sold bomb dream

New Delhi, June 14: Akhtar Hussain Qutubuddin Ahmed has begun regaling interrogators with his adventures in the phantom world of nuclear espionage but the profile that is slowly emerging befits a conman more than a spy.

Ahmed, deported from Dubai during the weekend on charges of trying to sell nuclear secrets, has been at the game for a long time, he is said to have told his interrogators.

The trader told them that he nearly sold “nuclear secrets” to Iranian embassy officials in Delhi about eight to nine years ago. He is said to have produced some rough drawings, copied by hand from a technical journal and a book, to convince the Iranians of his knowledge of a nuclear weapons programme and links with nuclear scientists. But they saw through his game later and backed out.

Indian government officials said Ahmed was a sophisticated “conman” who was good at wangling introductions with diplomats and selling them the dream of an “Islamic bomb”. In the United Arab Emirates, too, he had made contact with officials from Palestine, Syria and the Saudi government to sell them his “secrets”.

He had apparently gone to the extent of explaining to a Palestinian official how he had convinced Syria to part with land to settle the Palestinians if he gave them nuclear technology. “But it seems everyone found out that he was trying to cheat them, sooner than later,” an official said.

Ahmed ran out of luck after a quarrel with his business partner, a retired colonel in Dubai identified as Obaid. He apparently knew what Ahmed was promising the Arab diplomats and spilled the beans after the tiff.

The two had together set up a firm that provided the documentation required for the immigration of 60-70 Indian workers to Dubai. Each worker paid the duo 1,000 dirhams to be split between the two.

But Ahmed told his interrogators that the colonel played dirty and did not split the money. When Ahmed’s protests became too loud, Obaid pulled strings in the law enforcement agencies that picked up the Indian “spy”.

The government officials said Ahmed had been in the custody of Dubai police since April. “They also must have been investigating if he actually knew anything important and deported him to Mumbai after their investigations suggested that he was trying to make money,” a home ministry official said.

Officials said they were interrogating Ahmed to “learn” everything he knows. “We have to know everything about his life,” an official said. If they don’t, the government may have to set him free soon. He is now being questioned at the Mumbai international airport.

“There is a limit to how long he can be held like this for questioning,” an official said, pointing out that Ahmed’s interrogation had revealed that he was involved in a criminal case. “We have sought details of this case to determine if he is wanted by police in this case,” the official added.

Dash of celebrity

In Jamshedpur, once home to Ahmed, the police have stumbled on evidence of the good life he was used to. The guest list at Akhtar Hussain’s wedding in Mumbai included quite a few of the rich and famous.

One of the wedding pictures, found in Jamshedpur’s Azadnagar today, shows Ahmed with actor Johnny Lever. “We have kept the photograph with us in case we need it,” East Singbhum superintendent of police Arun Oraon said.

“He was unemployed when he lived here. But he maintained a high standard of living. We need to find out the channels of his income,” Oraon said.

From the steel city, Ahmed moved to Delhi and later to Mumbai. The police have been informed that he had bought a house at Safdarjung in New Delhi. Ahmed’s father, who died in the early 1980s, was from Allahabad. He had shifted to Jamshedpur in the late 70s.

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