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OP Desert Storm
Within days of the dramatic handover of Aftab Ansari—an accused in the attack on the US consulate in Calcutta—to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), another and a more infamous member of Mumbai's underworld was a marked man here in Dubai. Iqbal 'Mirchi' Memon, a known Dawood Ibrahim henchman who played a crucial role as facilitator in the Mumbai bomb blasts, was slated for the kind of discreet handover that this emirate state has recently gained a reputation for. The Indian ambassador to the UAE, K.C. Singh, the ministry of external affairs in Delhi and the CBI were duly alerted about Dubai's willingness to follow through with further handovers.
But fortuitously for Mirchi, he's gained a reprieve through an untimely death in the family of Dubai crown prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum: his 22-year-old nephew Sheikh Rashid died in an accident last week, plunging the royalty into mourning and distracting the administration from the deportation task. Sources say this has put on hold Mirchi's deportation, though it will be difficult for him now to slip out of the country.
Aftab Ansari's deportation was probably the first sign that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) government, more specifically that of the emirate of Dubai, was no longer willing to grant safe haven to Indian mafiosi who have made the country their base of operations since the late '80s. Dubai's decision to deport mafia dons has been propelled by its ambition to become the financial and leisure hub of the region. No wonder that, post-September 11, it is keener than ever to shed its racy reputation as a refuge for dons from the subcontinent. The new motto is: no turning a blind eye to those who have committed acts of terrorism elsewhere in the world (they consequently hope to frighten the 'big fish' into leaving the country).
And it is a message that has gone home. One wanted face slipped quietly out of town mid-February. And he is far more infamous than the little known thug from Bihar, Ansari. Dawood Ibrahim's younger brother Anees, whose henchmen collect hafta from two and three-star hotels which run a lucrative entertainment business here, has flown the coop. Close associates say he, and yet another brother Noora, are with 'Bhai' in Karachi. Neither has any immediate plan to return to Dubai. Dawood's other brother, the harmless Mustaqin, has stayed behind as have the women in the family. The former two are believed to have led everyone to believe they were going to Saudi Arabia on Haj, only to wing their way to Pakistan.
Anees runs several hotels here as fronts for his underground operations. The managers at his Dubai hotels and Sharjah-based construction company had received instructions over the phone as recently as last week but were blissfully unaware that their boss was in another country when he called.
Police officials, who do not want to be named, say Anees had been tipped off that he could be next on the deportation list, even though they admit that no such instructions had been received from the top. "We led him to believe, not directly, of course, that if Aftab Ansari could be deported just like that, so could he," says a senior police official, adding that much to his delight the last of D Company's big guns packed up and left.
Authorities believe he may have used one of his five passports—among them is a fake Pakistani one—to make the getaway. In fact, the UAE's reluctance to enforce the extradition treaty signed with India had led to niggling doubts on the bona fides of the former, which for one reason or the other has never played ball on extraditing criminals whom India wanted to try.
The story of bad blood goes way back to the '70s, with India's reluctance to hand over K. Seetharaman, the chief accountant of an airport services company, Dnata, who fled to India with a few crores.New Delhi complicated the deportation issue further by refusing to send back another accused, who had apparently killed an entire family and then escaped to his home state of Gujarat. The Indian authorities had allowed senior UAE police officials to interrogate him in Gujarat, but refused to extradite him to Dubai to face charges.
The Ansari deportation has also led to the exit of the third big player from Dubai's underworld, Sharad Shetty, whose hotel is a byword for sleaze in this city. Shetty's destination is believed to be South Africa's Sun City where Dawood and his henchmen have a base. Shetty too left Dubai within days of Ansari's deportation. The Gulf state finally, seems to be getting rid of its dons, not by accident, as it is claimed, but by careful design.