In a major diplomatic setback, Portugal has rejected India’s plea for the extradition of Khalistani militant Paramjit Singh Pamma, paving the way for his release.
The Evora high court set Pamma free on Friday on the order of Portuguese justice minister Frances Van Dunem. He will now return to the UK, where he has been living after being granted political asylum in 2000. With an eye on UK’s Sikh vote bank, Britain’s leader of the opposition Jeremy Corbyn and fellow MP Rob Marris had recently made concerted efforts to block Pamma’s extradition.
He had been arrested in Portugal on December 18, 2015, on the basis of a Red Corner notice issued by Interpol in 2012 following the Indian authorities’ request. His extradition had been sought in the 2009 murder case of Rulda Singh, chief of the Rashtriya Sikh Sangat, a wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), besides three blast cases and a fake passport case. A team of Punjab Police officials led by deputy inspector general (DIG) Balkar Singh had recently gone to Portugal to file the extradition case.
Pamma’s lawyer Manuel Luis Ferreira said, “This is a historic and landmark decision by the Portuguese ministry of justice where the facts of the case shook India’s frivolous extradition request.”
Commenting on the development, Punjab director general of police (DGP) Suresh Arora said they would go through the order and then take action in consultation with the state and central governments. “Portugal’s rejection of our extradition plea doesn’t mean that Pamma is innocent. He is wanted in cases of murder and other crimes, and will remain on Interpol’s Red Corner list until he surrenders or is extradited to India,” Arora said.
Ferreira, British solicitor Amarjit Singh Bachu and US-based lawyer Gurpatwant Singh Pannun had represented Pamma, while Patiala-based advocate Birjinder Singh Sodhi, who defended the accused in the Rulda Singh case, provided documents to them. The Rulda Singh case had fallen flat as a Patiala court acquitted all four accused in 2013.
Talking to Hindustan Times on the phone, Bachu said the extradition petition was rejected by the ministry of justice as they found the charges against Pamma baseless. He said the ministry order read: “Most of the acts for which extradition is requested occurred in India, at a time when refugee status had been granted (to Pamma) by the UK.”
“India’s case fell flat as we highlighted that the UK didn’t act on the Red Corner notice as their investigation had given the clean chit to Pamma,” said Bachu.
On the Indian government’s plea, Pamma had been detained by the UK authorities in 2010 in the Rulda Singh case. A team of the British police had visited Patiala in 2011 and quizzed Jagmohan Singh and Darshan Singh, both accused in the case. However, the British police later set Pamma free as they found nothing concrete in the charges against him.
Portugal and India had signed an extradition treaty in 2007, a year after the extradition of gangster Abu Salem and Bollywood actress Monica Bedi.
1999: Paramjit Singh alias Pamma arrives in UK; granted asylum a year later by British government due to fears of his maltreatment by Indian authorities
2009: RSS wing chief Rulda Singh murdered in Patiala; Punjab Police declare Pamma as mastermind
2010: Pamma also named as accused in Patiala and Ambala bomb blast cases
2011: UK authorities conduct inquiry, give clean chit to Pamma in the cases
2012: Interpol issues Red Corner notice against Pamma
2015: On family holiday in Portugal, Pamma arrested from hotel in December on the basis of Interpol notice
2016: Portuguese justice minister declines India’s extradition plea; Pamma freed.