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Secret of the hush-hush mission
- Three years to grab Salem

New Delhi, Nov. 11: When an Indian Air Force special plane landed in Mumbai at 7.50 am with Abu Salem and Monica Bedi on board, it marked the conclusion of three years of efforts by the CBI to have the Bombay blast accused extradited from Portugal.

For the 19-member team of investigators of the bureau that was on the Salem job, the more important achievement of the moment was to have kept news about the extradition a secret.

CBI sources said the mission was kept under wraps because of the high threat perception about the couple. For Dawood Ibrahim, Salem’s extradition means the possibility of a mine of information opening up.

The external affairs ministry and the Indian embassy in Lisbon played a key role in helping the CBI lay its hands on Salem since India does not have an extradition treaty with Portugal.

Although the CBI had hired lawyers to fight the case against Salem, it was the diplomatic effort that eventually paid off. Salem lawyers made a big noise about human rights, but Portugal authorities listened to India’s arguments, too, said a government official.

India had received the go-ahead on Salem’s extradition as early as October 4. After winding up the case of possessing false identity documents against Salem and receiving an undertaking from the Indian authorities that he would not be given the death penalty and get a maximum sentence of 25 years, the Portugal government agreed to hand him over.

India was asked to pick up Salem by November 10. Sources said the earlier plan was to bring only Salem and the CBI had sent an advance special task force to Lisbon on October 28. When the task force was almost ready to leave, on November 6, the Portugal government allowed India to take Monica also.

She was trying hard to remain in Lisbon, raising the issue of possible torture and human rights violations against her in India.

The CBI immediately sent another team with a woman officer to bring Monica also.

For CBI director U.S. Misra, the extradition was the best retirement gift he could have asked for. Misra, who retires on December 6, said in reply to a question: “We have spent heavily on the extradition' but be satisfied, we have him here.”

Abu Salem was arrested in Portugal in 2002 to the great joy of the then CBI chief, P.C. Sharma. “It was an uphill task as we did not have any extradition treaty with Portugal. But everything was provided in a systematic way to the authorities in Lisbon,” he told PTI today. “I am very happy today that the efforts have fructified.”

Sharma himself visited Portugal twice. After getting the news of Salem’s arrest in 2002, he had despatched a three-member team headed by the then additional director, Vijay Shankar.

Shankar is jubilant. “I am delighted by this success of the CBI and the officers responsible for handling this extremely sensitive and important case. CBI deserves all praise,” he said.

The first obstacle to efforts to get him sprang when Portugal refused to deport Salem who had been arrested with a Pakistani passport showing his name as Arsalan Mohsin Ali. This was overcome after fingerprint matching.

Another problem cropped up when Portugal refused to entertain the extradition request without an assurance from India that Salem would not be given the death sentence if convicted. Portuguese law prohibits extraditing a criminal to a country where capital punishment is allowed.

In January 2003, the government gave an executive assurance of not sentencing Salem or Monica with capital punishment or life term of more than 25 years.

Salem made one last desperate attempt to block his extradition by pleading with the Portuguese court that he belonged to the minority community and would be discriminated against in India.

The CBI sent to the Portugal authorities a series of judgments of various courts and the history of India’s secular tradition.

Another problem arose in July last year when the Lisbon court decided to extradite Salem but only for offences like gun-running and forgery. It would have meant that the agency would not be able to book him in the Bombay blast case.

The CBI had to move the supreme court there, seeking cancellation of the high court order.

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