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Apart, yes; parted, not sure
- Lawyers say Salem and Monica saga may not be over yet

Mumbai, Nov. 15: Reports may suggest otherwise, but the Abu Salem-Monica Bedi story seems to be far from over, the arrested gangster’s lawyer said.

It is not clear whether it is true passion or knowing too much of each other’s secrets, or what the lawyers feel their clients should be, but the extortionist and the former actor make a classic love story, their advocates say.

Owes A. Siddiqui, Salem’s advocate, insists that it is a matter of the heart for the gangster. “‘Get her out as soon as you can,’ Salem ordered us yesterday,” said Siddiqui, who revealed he was appointed as the extradited Bombay blast accused’s advocate through a phone call on Friday afternoon, after Salem landed in Mumbai.

Statements have been made in Monica’s name that distance her from the don. But the lawyers dismissed them strongly.

Siddiqui shrugged off reports that Monica is considering turning approver. “For that she had to be implicated in the charges against Salem. But she is not,” he said.

“Besides, she also has ‘feelings’ for him.”

There were reports that Monica might turn approver after she was quoted in a Portuguese newspaper and in two letters to the Prime Minister and the President that she regretted meeting Salem.

“I regret meeting him. The only hope I have is my asylum request and I implore the authorities to take into account that I am a person, I am not Abu Salem’s shadow,” she reportedly told the Expresso newspaper in Portugal, where she was behind bars for three years.

“There is no proof that she has written the letters or made the statements,” said Siddiqui.

Shabana Shah, part of the Salem-Monica legal team, also stressed that the former actor, who allegedly handed over the phone to producers when Salem made his famous extortion calls, is not going against Salem. Quite the contrary.

“It does not appear that Monica is against Salem at all,” Shah, who was in Hyderabad today at the hearing of Monica’s case, said.

“He certainly pressed for her coming out as soon as possible. It was something anyone would do for someone he was close to,” she said.

The Hyderabad court, which is hearing charges against Monica for forging a passport, said it would issue its order on Thursday on the subject of extending the custody. She is in judicial custody, but her lawyers are hopeful of getting her out on bail soon.

There seems to be no tomorrow in sight for Salem, said a member of the legal team. “He looks set for two to three years in custody without trial,” he said.

Yesterday, Rashid Khan, a lawyer from Lucknow, joined Salem’s defence. He is also related to Salem. The gangster was in touch with him over the past months, seeking legal opinion.

Another lawyer, Harjot Singh, who is from Birmingham and has handled Salem’s case in Portugal, where he was detained for three years before he was extradited last week, is slated to join the team tomorrow.

Singh is making the payments to the battery of lawyers, said Siddiqui.

Monica did not seem to be affected that much, said Shah. “She is subdued, but coping,” she added.

Monica’s family members ' her father and her brother ' are also in constant touch from Norway, where they live, with the legal team.

But Salem, his lawyer said, was not doing so well.

“He is confused. Sometimes he falls into a fit of depression,” Siddiqui said.

A member of the legal team said Salem looked “deceptive”. “He looks innocent,” he said.

“He is soft-spoken and polite. He speaks Hindi like someone who knows Urdu, not with the Mumbaiya accent,” he said.

Salem faces charges of supplying arms in the 1993 blasts in Mumbai and in over 50 other cases, including several murders relating to extortion.

“He is also very scared,” said Siddiqui. He said Salem felt there was a threat to his life. A lawyer said that now Salem, to survive in a jail, would have to do what he had others do for him: “pay hafta” to prison guards.

Salem will be produced in court on November 23. He has been detained in a government bungalow at Churchgate in CBI custody.

Tomorrow, the Tada court, where he will be tried, will issue its order on the defence application that it be allowed to be present when Salem is being interrogated.

On Friday, when Salem was brought to the Tada court in Arthur Road Jail, the lawyers seemed to materialise from nowhere. Siddiqui said he was put on the job by a phone call.

“I was on my way to work in the afternoon when I got a call from Ashok Sarogi (another senior lawyer on the team) on whether I could represent a client, an accused in the blast case, who was being produced in the court. It was later that I realised that it was Abu Salem. Sarogi called me on behalf of Harjot Singh,” he said.

Salem did not seem to be aware of the presence of his legal team, put in place through remote control, at first. But a hushed conversation between him and Siddiqui settled the matter.

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