The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Samira passport probe to reopen

Washington, Nov. 20: The CBI is to freshly interrogate the regional passport officer who was in charge of the Lucknow passport office when Samira Jumani, Abu Salemís first wife, was issued a travel document with a false name on the basis of concocted papers more than a decade ago.

Such an interrogation is the only hope for investigating authorities in India to persuade the US to once again consider their request for extraditing Samira to India on charges of criminal conspiracy, cheating, forgery, corruption and violation of the Passport Act.

There is hope at the CBI headquarters in Delhi that the passport officer may change his testimony now that Abu Salem is in Indian custody and is likely to say quite a lot during his questioning and in courts about how fake passports were procured for himself, Samira and Monica Bedi, his companion.

At the department of justice here, officials have firmly turned down Indiaís request for extraditing Samira from the US and closed the file on the grounds that there is nothing in the Indian documents to suggest that Samira was personally guilty of any charges levelled against her in the fake passport episode.

However, if the then Lucknow passport officer was to change his testimony and recast Samiraís role from that of a beneficiary of the underworld shenanigans in procuring fake travel documents to that of a conspirator or accessory, the Americans may be willing to look at a fresh request for her extradition, sources here said.

Since Salem has been extradited to India recently, there is scope for fresh evidence and new angles in the case, American sources concede.

European standards on extradition are extremely tough, especially to countries with death penalty, such as the US and India, it is widely recognised here.

Because Salem has been extradited from Portugal, a signatory to European Union laws and conventions on extradition and human rights, there is a feeling here that there is more to Samira than meets the eye.

But the entire case hinges on fresh testimony from the officer, who was in charge of the passport office in Lucknow when Samira and Salem were issued passports there without due process.

The passport officerís earlier testimony was the main reason why the Americans rejected Indiaís request for handing over Samira for criminal proceedings against her in Lucknow.

The CBI saw this testimony as a careful effort by the officer not to implicate himself in any wrongdoing.

The Americans, on the other hand, viewed this testimony as proof that Samira was not guilty of any charges levelled against her, but only a beneficiary of criminal acts by other people.

They equated her with the 10.3 million-odd illegal immigrants in the US, many of whom have acquiesced in similar crimes by organised gangs in order to fulfill the American immigrant dream.

The irony of the Indian request for taking charge of Samira is that the government file is thick with material against her, but there is very little that can be used against her in the US.

For example, the CBI has documents with her photographs to show that passports were issued for her under three different names in Hyderabad and Bhopal, in addition to Lucknow.

But since Samira has not used her passports issued in Hyderabad and Bhopal while in the US, those travel documents are of no use here in pursuing the case against her.

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