Underworld don Abu Salem should thank senior BJP leader L.K. Advani. It is Advani’s December 17, 2002 letter to the Portuguese Foreign Minister in his capacity as Deputy Prime Minister that has resulted in charges against Salem under the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) being dropped by a Mumbai court.
In his letter, Advani had assured Portuguese Minister for Foreign Affairs Antonio Martins Da Cruz that “if extradited by Portugal for trial in India, Abu Salem Abdul Qayoom Ansari and Monica Bedi would not be visited by death penalty or imprisonment for a term beyond 25 years.” Portugal's extradition order is based on this assurance.
According to Section 3 (1) of MCOCA, whoever commits an offence of organised crime shall be punished with death or imprisonment for life if such offence has resulted in the death of any person.
The Maharashtra government has been forced to withdraw the charges against Salem under this law in connection with the Ajit Diwani murder case. Diwani, a former secretary to actress Manisha Koirala, was shot dead outside his office in Mumbai on June 30, 2001.
The move followed a letter from the CBI that dropping of MCOCA charges against Salem was necessary to honour the Indian government’s commitment to Portugal.
Salem, who was extradited to India in 2005, is accused of a role in the 1993 terror blasts in Mumbai. He is also facing MCOCA charges in connection with an extortion call to Delhi businessman Ashok Gupta in 2002. Delhi Police had booked him for demanding Rs 50 crore from Gupta.
A similar plea for withdrawal of MCOCA charges is pending before a Delhi Court which has asked the CBI to explain why he was extradited instead of being deported.
Interestingly, in a letter dated September 23, 2002 to his Portuguese counterpart, the then Foreign Minister Yashwant Sinha had sought “speedy deportation” of Salem and not extradition.
In letters to the Home Secretary and Delhi Police Commissioner on March 12, 2008, the then Additional Solicitor General Vikas Singh had said the Salem case in Portugal had been “handled very badly”.