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Thursday, Dec 12, 2019

Gangster’s extradition: Hong Kong court sure of Romi’s role in arranging Nabha jailbreak

Court was convinced that Romi provided money to arrange firearms to help 6 hardcore criminals, including two terrorists, escape Nabha jail in 2016

chandigarh Updated: Nov 22, 2019 07:20 IST
Ravinder Vasudeva
Ravinder Vasudeva
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
Ramanjit Singh ‘Romi’.
Ramanjit Singh ‘Romi’.
         

The Khalistan angle, retraction of statements by key witnesses and affidavits by high-profile activists, the extradition case of gangster Ramanjit Singh ‘Romi’ — wanted in 2016 Nabha jailbreak case — witnessed a fierce battle in a Hong Kong court that eventually ruled in favour of the Indian government

As per the judgment given by Hong Kong’s eastern magistrate’s court on November 19 (a copy of which is with HT), the Indian government had sought Romi’s extradition on the basis of two cases. One related to his role as a “conspirator” in Nabha jailbreak and the other was a case of car theft registered against him in June 2016 at Nabha police station. Weapons and fake credits cards with skimmed data of dormant accounts were recovered from the car stolen by him.

On the basis of these two cases, the Indian government made out 28 notional offences in the charge-sheet placed before the court for Romi’s extradition, but the court was not convinced on various notions related to the car theft case.

It was in the Nabha jailbreak case in which the court found India’s claims having solid ground, even as Romi’s lawyers pleaded that the gangster was being made a victim by Punjab Police for supporting Khalistan movement in Punjab.

The court was convinced that Romi, of Bangi Ruldu village of Talwandi Sabo in Bathinda district, had provided money to arrange firearms to help six hardcore criminals, including two terrorists, escape the Nabha jail on November 27, 2016.

TWO STRONG EVIDENCES

The judgment says the first piece of evidence the Punjab Police gave in the case was an affidavit of a prisoner from maximum-security jail in Nabha, who had overheard Romi and other inmates discussing their plans.

Romi was lodged in Nabha jail till June 2016 in the car theft and recovery of arms case. He jumped bail and fled to Hong Kong.

MONEY TRANSFERS BY COUSIN ON RECORD

The second evidence was the money transfers made on four different days by Romi’s cousin Rajveer Singh to the bank accounts of Mani Sekhon, brother of one of the jailbreak escapees Gurpreet Singh Sekhon. The transfers were made between September 28, 2016 and November 16, 2016.

Romi’s lawyer contested the identity of the sender of the money. However, the Indian government produced an affidavit by top functionary of HDFC Bank, India, Swaranjeet Wadhwa that the fugitive’s cousin Rajveer Singh sent around $49,000 to Mani Sekhon.

As a last-ditch effort to save Romi, his lawyer made written submissions on June 24, 2019 urging the court to admit fresh affidavits by Rajveer (Romi’s cousin who had admitted to sending money to purchase firearms), inmate Harcharan Singh (Nabha jail inmate who had admitted to overhearing the conspiracy) and one Gurwinder Singh, a Moga resident who had told the police that he received instructions and money from Romi for the purpose of harbouring the escapees.

In fresh affidavits, all three of them retracted from their statements given to Punjab Police, but the court rejected this.

KHALISTAN ANGLE AND FOUR AFFIDAVITS

The judgment says Romi even contended that he believes in Sikhism and is an activist of separatist Khalistan movement. He alleged that because of religious belief and political affliliation, he has been a subject of persecution by Indian authorities since 2013.

Romi even produced purported expert evidence in his support by Dr Alan Mitchell, Canada-based human rights activist, sociologist Indira-Nastascha Prahst and lawyers Navkiran Singh and Jaspal Singh Manjhpur. He also submitted that these four be treated as expert witnesses.

Mitchell, a doctor at the time of compiling his affidavit, was working as a medical examiner at an immigration removal centre in UK and on May 21, 2019, he conducted an interview with Romi at Lai Chi Reception Centre in Hong Kong to claim that he was tortured by Indian police officers at CIA Patiala office. But the judge did not acknowledge it. “He is a medical doctor. It is not his duty to give his opinion as to risk of torture. His opinion is biased,” judge LT Pang said.

The judgment says Romi would be kept in judicial custody, not in police custody, if he returns to India.