New Delhi, Sept. 23: Foreign minister Yashwant Sinha today stepped on the diplomatic accelerator, writing to his Portuguese counterpart for Lisbon’s help in getting underworld don Abu Salem back to India as early as possible.
To make sure the request is considered, the emphasis was on the gangster’s terrorist links — especially his role in the Mumbai serial blasts that killed more than 250 people in 1993.
The stress is on getting Salem deported and not extradited, which Indian officials say is a long-drawn process and might run into judicial complications. Deportation, on the other hand, is an “executive decision” which depends totally on the political leadership in Portugal.
Although Salem could appeal in a court to stall his deportation, Portuguese law is clear on this. “An appeal does not automatically cancel out the deportation,” the law states. This establishes that deportation is an executive decision, which does not need to wait for the outcome of an appeal in a court.
India has already sent a “note verbale” to Lisbon. But the unsigned official document only formally states New Delhi’s position on the case. Today, South Block decided to step up its diplomatic initiative with Sinha’s letter to foreign minister Jaime Gama. An Indian team, which would also include senior CBI officials, is expected to leave for Lisbon soon. Although the exact date of the team’s departure is not known, indications suggest it would leave once India receives an assurance from the Portuguese government that Delhi’s request would be entertained.
CBI director P.C. Sharma is confident Salem will not get away this time. “So far so good,” is his cryptic comment. Asked about Portuguese law on fraud and extradition rules, Sharma said: “We are not going into all this. We want to simply get him deported here.”
There are reasons why the CBI does not want to get into such legal details at this point. The investigating agency’s track record on getting people extradited is not too impressive. Moreover, India and Portugal do not have an extradition pact. A treaty could still be put in place, but this would be a time-consuming exercise. Even after all this, an extradition involves the judiciary and the court would take the final decision.
Deportation is a political decision. Going strictly by the rulebook, it could also lead to complications as the host country might decide to deport the wanted criminal to the place where he came from. As Salem was travelling on a false Pakistani passport and came from Pakistan, he could be deported back there.
The Indian investigating team is, however, confident the documents and other information — which include the finger prints that were already supplied to Interpol — have established beyond doubt the Mumbai criminal’s identity as well as his nationality. “Since both these have been established, there is no reason why he should be deported to Pakistan or some other country,” an intelligence official said.