India and Portugal will finally sign a bilateral extradition treaty when Portuguese President Anibal Cavaco Silva arrives in India next week, on the first visit by a Portuguese president in almost two decades. Portuguese Justice Ministry officials left for New Delhi late on Wednesday to firm up details, a senior Indian diplomat said. Portugal still has objections to the treaty, with concerns relating to India having a death sentence.
Portugal handed over underworld gangster Abu Salem to India in November 2005, despite the absence of an extradition treaty, because India and Portugal were both signatories to a United Nations convention, thereby sharing what they called an arrangement. But concerns Portugal had then raised continue, with Portugal, like the rest of the European Union, objecting to not only the death sentence but also a life sentence, which, they say, should not exceed 25 years.
According to Indian diplomats in Lisbon, Abu Salem got caught in a web of his own making. He had served time in a Lisbon prison for overstaying and for passport fraud. After serving part of his sentence, he appealed to the Portuguese court to release him, at which point they permitted the CBI, through the embassy, to take charge of Salem. Indian diplomats, who were present at the time, said Salem's appeal is what forced Portugal to hand him over and continue his sentence in India, with the proviso that he not be awarded either a death sentence, or even a life sentence. Also the diplomat said no charges should be added to the eight counts he was charged with by the Portuguese judicial system.
"The embassy only helped facilitate his release," a senior Indian diplomat said. "Like paying lawyers fees and so on, but we were not involved in the actual details of the release. The CBI managed that."
Monica Bedi was easier to get, on charges of having a forged passport.
Portugal, a senior diplomat said, is the "soft underbelly" of Europe, with very liberal, even lax immigration laws. Since average Portuguese are not willing to do most of the manual labour needed to keep the economy functional, illegal immigrants are not treated too harshly. There are around 5000 Indian nationals, mostly from Punjab, in Portugal now. Many of them having had their status legalised after overstaying after their visas expired.
Reputed to be very safe, with what the Portuguese call the lowest crime record in most of Europe, Portugal could well be the next haven for those fleeing the law. Which is what makes this extradition treaty a very welcome move, the diplomat said.