The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Lisbon hurdle to Salem return

New Delhi, Oct. 6: CBI director P.C. Sharma today claimed that his three-man team, now in Lisbon, has had fruitful discussions with Portuguese authorities and will return home in the a couple of days with a report on the legal hurdles in getting Abu Salem, one of India’s most wanted.

The CBI chief is optimistic. So is deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani. He keeps hinting that Salem, one of the main accused in the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts case that left nearly 200 people dead, will be handed over to Indian authorities.

“Things are moving in a positive direction,” Sharma said on the discussions the team had with Portuguese authorities.

Asked if the team faced lack of cooperation from the Indian embassy in Lisbon, he said: “That is not true, we have had full cooperation from the mission, including the ambassador, Madhu Bhaduri, and her colleagues, who were doing their best.”

However, getting the underworld don back home may not be such a simple proposition. It would take political will and an iron-clad case by the CBI to convince Portugal that Salem will get justice in India.

That India and Portugal do not have an extradition treaty is a stumbling block that can, however, be surmounted if there is political will in Lisbon.

New Delhi is relying on the excellent bilateral relations between the two countries and a little prodding from the US to get Salem deported to India. The US has already promised to put in a good word for India.

The Salem case is certain to be raised when Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee talks to EU leaders in Denmark. New Delhi hopes that its friends in the EU, including Britain and France, will do their bit to persuade Portugal.

India hopes that a simple executive decision by the Portuguese will expedite things for the CBI. An expulsion will be much faster than an extradition.

India is trying to convince the Portuguese that Salem is wanted in his homeland for a heinous crime. New Delhi argues that its case should get precedence over the one in Lisbon, where he is being detained for carrying forged documents. In Portugal, the sentence for forgery is three years in prison.

If Portugal wants Salem to first stand trial and be convicted for entering that country with false papers, India will have to wait three years before they get their man.

Senior Indian officials are hoping to convince the Portuguese that Abu Salem is wanted back home for a serious terrorist crime. New Delhi hopes that the general intolerance for terrorism after September 11 will strengthen its case.

To help the Portuguese take a political decision, India is working to provide “sovereign guarantee” that Salem will not face the death penalty or imprisonment for more than 25 years, if convicted. The government is ready to go ahead with it, though questions are being raised about the executive’s powers to give such a guarantee, considering that the crime Salem is accused of carries the death sentence according to Indian law.

Portugal, as a member of the EU, is against capital punishment and will not hand over Salem if he faces the death penalty in India. The government is bending backwards to comply with EU regulations. However, it still could be a long haul before Salem is brought back to India and provides answers to the questions New Delhi wants to ask.

India is hoping Salem will be able to provide information to nail Pakistan’s role in inciting terror in India. The Bombay blasts are seen as the handiwork of the ISI and India’s criminal network.

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