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CBI sniffs Salem

New Delhi, Jan. 28: After two-and-a-half years of negotiations, Portugal has agreed to extradite gangster Abu Salem to India. Salem is wanted for his alleged role in the serial bomb blasts in Mumbai in 1993.

'We were informed by the Indian mission in Portugal that the Supreme Court has granted India's request for extradition of Abu Salem for all the offences,' CBI spokesperson G. Mohanty said.

Although Portugal's consent has been obtained, it is not clear when Salem can be brought back to the country. Sources said Salem could still file a fresh petition in court arguing that his extradition to India was a violation of the Portuguese constitution. Even if that happens, Salem may be able to delay the extradition by some days but not prevent it.

The Supreme Court of Portugal has cleared the extradition after examining two petitions ' one filed by the CBI through the Portuguese prosecutor-general and another by Salem's lawyers.

New Delhi is believed to have given an assurance that Salem would not be awarded the death penalty if found guilty. European Union law prohibits extradition of an accused to a country where capital punishment is not banned.

Salem was arrested with his girlfriend Monica Bedi in Lisbon in September 2002. He was charged with entering Portugal with forged documents, causing injury to a policeman who was performing his duty and perjury. The Portuguese authorities had dropped one of the charges against him ' of marrying a local girl to get a resident permit.

Despite the optimism in the CBI about laying hands on Salem, it may not happen in a hurry, as Bedi's example shows. A Portuguese court has ordered her extradition to India, but she appealed, succeeding in lengthening her stay.

The foreign ministry, which has been negotiating Salem's extradition with the Portuguese, would neither confirm nor deny the news of the court's verdict. In private, officials said the decision is an example of the growing relations and the resolve of all 'like-minded and right-thinking' countries to put up a united fight against terrorism.

Salem is wanted for trial for his role in the serial blasts which killed 257 people and destroyed property worth crores.

In July last year, the Portuguese high court had given permission for his extradition to stand trial only in minor offences, such as passport faking and extortion. The CBI appealed against the ruling in the Supreme Court.

The Abu Salem case became a high-profile diplomatic issue for India as its request was first turned down by Lisbon because of the European legal provision.

The then home minister, L.K. Advani, assured the Portuguese authorities that Salem would not be handed the death sentence. Even after that, the path to his extradition was not cleared. This was mainly because Salem was made to serve his sentence in Lisbon for entering Portugal with false travel documents and for other related crimes.

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