ASHISH K. SEN WRITING IN OUTLOOK INDIA
Senior US officials and intelligence sources point to the “considerable pressure” Washington exerted on the Portuguese government to facilitate Salem’s extradition. “India had made a big deal about Abu Salem, and Washington agreed to help,” a US intelligence source told Outlook. Though it was “long time coming”, the “prolonged effort” did result in the Portuguese government delivering him to India.
Confirmation of the US involvement also came from a state department official who told Outlook that the Bush administration had “encouraged” the Portuguese to go through with Salem’s extradition.
Salem cheaply selling off his multi-million dollar assets alerted US authorities.
“We were told that the Portuguese were working within their own laws and that this (extradition) would happen in due course,” the official said. Explaining the delay in getting Salem and his companion actress Monica Bedi extradited, he said, “These legal
issues take time to sort out.”
The Bush administration had been “on the case” much before Salem’s arrest in September 2002. Officials point to a speech the then ambassador to India, Robert D. Blackwill, made in Calcutta on November 27, 2002, wherein he said: “For more than 12 months leading up to this arrest, American law enforcement agencies, including the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, have closely cooperated with the Indian Central Bureau of Investigation and Interpol to track and ultimately capture Salem.”
Blackwill also pointed out that because of the “prior involvement of the Bush administration in assisting India to track down Salem and the muscular relationship between our respective law enforcement agencies, the Indian CBI requested American assistance to intercede with the Portuguese to obtain custody of Abu Salem. The top of the Bush administration immediately concurred and acted within hours”. American representatives facilitated several meetings between high-ranking CBI officials, the American ambassador to Portugal, and Portuguese officials in Lisbon, Blackwill had said.
Following 9/11, Bush issued Executive Order 13224 that identified terrorists and terrorism financiers. Salem, treasury department spokesperson Molly Millerwise told Outlook, did not figure in this order as a terrorist or terrorist financier. However, being in the US at the time, the gangster began to feel the heat when officials began to monitor activities of foreign nationals. With properties running into millions of dollars in New Jersey, he began selling these at throwaway prices after September 2001. The transactions caught the notice of US law enforcement but Salem managed to slip away to Europe.
His one-time boss Dawood Ibrahim was not so lucky. In September 2004, Juan Carlos Zarate, assistant secretary of Terrorist Financing and Financial Crimes at the treasury department, told a congressional committee that Dawood, holder of a Pakistani passport (No. G869537), had been listed as “an Al Qaeda facilitator now living in Pakistan”.
Zarate called on the international community “to stop the flow of dirty money that kills”. For the D-Company, “the business of terrorism forms part of their larger criminal enterprise, which must be dismantled,” he said. Being designated a global terrorist meant that any assets Dawood owned in the US were frozen and transactions with US nationals prohibited.
It could have been good news for Salem who when he fled UAE, had hoped to settle down in a new country and D-link himself. But it was too late. He also made one mistake: entered the US on a false passport. Then 9/11 happened. And he was once again on the run.