Former Delhi police commissioner recalls his reconnaissance visit to a plush London neighborhood to check out a villa owned by Dawood Ibrahim.
On a day when the British authorities have frozen the assets of Dawood Ibrahim, I recall one of the most satisfying period of my professional life as a police officer — my tenure in the CBI from 1993 to 2002, first as a DIG and then as a joint director. The initial six years of the stint were with the special task force set up by the agency to investigate the horrific serial Mumbai blasts of 12 March, 1993 which destroyed hundreds of lives and properties worth thousands of crores. More importantly, it showed a face of terror that had not been seen until then in our country. It was our own 9/11.
Investigations revealed that the Mumbai underworld led by Dawood Ibrahim was behind the dastardly terror attack. In our pursuit of the gangster, we came to know that he owned properties, not only in different Indian cities but also overseas including a villa in tony Hampstead, London.
Sometime in late ’93 or early ’94, during one of my visits to London in connection with the extradition of Iqbal Mirchi, a Mumbai drug lord, I took some time out and traced his property with the help of a Scotland Yard officer. We did not go inside because we didn’t have a search warrant. We were in plainclothes, and went there in an unmarked car.
The villa with a garden was in one of the most prominent and plush neighborhoods of London. It must have been worth quite a lot then and even more now. Details of the property exist in CBI records and find mention in the dossier India sent to Pakistan and other countries.
At the time of my visit, the house seemed deserted. All intelligence reports on its most-wanted owner suggested that he was hiding in a safe house in Karachi under ISI protection. But we did notice a pair of frightened eyes peering at us, surreptitiously, from behind the curtains. I came to know later that it was a man named Saleem, a caretaker who attended to Dawood Ibrahim when he visited the property in happier times. But by then, there was already an international look-out notice for him and he would not have risked venturing out of his safe haven in Pakistan.
He had escaped India in 1987 when the Mumbai Police was after him in Carnak Bunder robbery case. My guess is he would have acquired and used the London villa between 1987 and 1993. After the Mumbai serial blasts, he ran away from White House, Knife Road, Dubai — his residence-cum-headquarters until then — and hid in Pakistan. My guess is he never went back to London.
I do not know if his Hampstead house has changed hands since then or if he acquired any other property in London before or later.
In fact, when the British government recently made a declaration that Pakistan should seize all properties of Dawood Ibrahim, I remember telling a section of the media that it seemed odd that the UK should be asking Pakistan for this action when he has a property in its own capital.
Today, I am quite delighted to learn that UK has finally acted. It is a most welcome step. We know Dawood Ibrahim owns properties elsewhere in the world as well like in South Africa, Kenya and maybe Switzerland. It is heartening that the international community is finally carrying out this exercise together. It will send a resounding message to the underworld of all countries that if gangsters occupy or possess properties overseas and invest their ill-gotten wealth abroad, the arm of the law can reach them, even if belatedly.
Interestingly, a property in Delhi that belonged to Dawood Ibrahim, was auctioned over a decade ago. The person who bought it began to get threat calls soon thereafter. “Tu Bhai ka property lega neelaami mein? ******* Itna hausla ho gaya tere ko? Abhi dekhna, kya hota hai”, the caller is reported to have said menacingly. (You are buying the don’s property in the auction now? You have so much courage? See what will happen to you now).
Delhi Police gave the man a PSO, who continued until I was police commissioner.
Does the UK action today tighten the noose around Dawood Ibrahim’s neck? No. He is a fugitive, hiding in a country that has given him safe refuge. His properties and bank accounts are being frozen in another country. It makes no difference to him because he continues to enjoy the patronage of Pakistani authorities. He is assured that nothing will happen to him. Pakistan will not hand him over to India because it will erode the credibility of ISI and nobody would work for them in future.
The action by UK is a signal to the country giving Dawood Ibrahim safe haven. If India’s diplomatic pressure doesn’t work on that country, which has been the case until now, perhaps the world community can drive some sense into them by its concerted action. That is the fervent hope of all policemen — including me — who have pursued the don hitherto with no success.
Neeraj Kumar is former police commissioner of Delhi. He set up the Special Task Force in the Central Bureau of Investigation in 1993 that probed the Mumbai blasts. He is currently chief advisor to the BCCI on corruption and security-related matters. He is the author of the book “Dial D for Don.”