Extradition may shed light on arms-drop mystery

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 June, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 24 June, 2007, 12:00am

Will the extradition of one of India's most wanted men finally crack the unsolved Purulia, India, arms-drop case, which was allegedly planned and funded by two Hong Kong-based businessmen more than a decade ago?

Last month, Denmark succumbed to persistent diplomatic pressure from Interpol and New Delhi and agreed to hand over Kim Peter Davy alias Niels Christian Nielsen, to stand trial in India. Described variously as a Dane, a New Zealander, an Englishman or an American, Davy is accused of masterminding with Wai Hong-mak and Peter Haestrup, Hong Kong businessmen holding British passports, what Indian authorities describe as 'the biggest crime in the country's history'.

Even as Danish and Indian authorities burn the midnight oil to finalise the date for Davy's extradition, security and legal experts monitoring the murky Purulia case have expressed fears that nothing substantial is likely to come out of whole exercise.

'New Delhi has mysteriously agreed to too many humiliating conditions to lay its hands on Davy. India's approach is suspect. The whole thing stinks', says Deepak Prahladka, a lawyer who defended Peter Bleach, a key defendant who was convicted in the Purulia case, only to be released in 2004 without serving his full sentence following prolonged pressure from British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Apparently, India has given Copenhagen a written undertaking that Davy will not be sentenced to capital punishment, will enjoy round-the-clock consular access, and will be repatriated if he is convicted to serve his term in Denmark.

Critics of the deal, which New Delhi is touting as a major victory, say it reeks of diplomatic intrigue and questionable bargains.

Mr Bleach, who conspired with both Davy and the alleged Hong Kong kingpins and now lives in the northern England seaside resort town of Scarborough, said: 'I have a hunch that Indian officials will sweet-talk Davy into pleading guilty in the Indian court.

'There would then be no need for any witnesses or other exhaustive evidence. He would simply be sentenced and sent home. The Indian public would then still be none the wiser about the entire incident. My view is that this is exactly what will happen.'

On a cold night in December 1995, a consignment of 548 AK-47 rifles, 11.3 tonnes of ammunition, 165 rocket launchers and a quantity of anti-tank weapons were parachuted from a low-flying Russian-made AN-26 plane over Purulia in West Bengal state.

The arms, packed in wooden boxes, landed close to the international headquarters of Anand Marg, or Path of Bliss - a violent Hindu cult known for its bitter opposition to the provincial communist government.

Ahead of Davy's extradition, India's Central Bureau of Investigation is claiming that the international fugitive's deposition will prove once and for all that Davy and his co-conspirators were members of the Anand Marg and planned the operation to arm the cult against the communists - a theory the CBI has propagated all along.

The arms drop triggered national hysteria. Initially, nuclear rival Pakistan was accused of smuggling weapons to arm secessionist rebels in India's restive north-east. But within five days, the AN-26 plane which had flown on to Phuket, Thailand, after dropping the cache of arms, mysteriously landed in Mumbai, giving a new twist to the drama.

Indian police and intelligence officials swooped down on the plane and arrested Mr Bleach and a five-member Russian air crew. But Davy, who was on board the plane, slipped past the police cordon at the airport.

Mr Bleach, the Russians and a few Anand Marg members were tried on charges of waging war against India - an offence punishable by death. While the Anand Marg members were released, Mr Bleach and the Russians were convicted and given life sentences in 2000.

A year later, the Russians were freed under pressure from Moscow, and Mr Bleach was released from a Calcutta jail in 2004 though he was supposed to serve a nine-year sentence.

Mr Bleach, a former intelligence officer, has maintained all along that he kept the British Foreign Office informed at every step after he was hired by Davy and the Hong Kong businessmen to deliver the consignment. Whitehall even alerted New Delhi in writing about the arms drop weeks in advance.

Mr Bleach says he thought he was 'acting as an inside man for the British government to expose terrorists in a sting operation'.

The CBI says it launched a manhunt for Davy after he vanished from Mumbai airport on December 21, 1995. Interpol tracked him down in Copenhagen in 2002. But CBI investigators also claim they spotted Davy in the company of US intelligence agents in Nairobi, Kenya, suggesting he has been involved in helping the CIA with the 'war on terror'.

According to Mr Bleach, 'Copenhagen's step has huge significance in the Scandinavian region apart from the direct bearing on the Purulia case'.

'The decision to extradite Davy represents a massive shift in government policy. There is no doubt that Copenhagen was influenced by the 9/11 incident as well as the more recent London bombings. Many international criminals sought refuge in Scandinavia, thinking they were safe there. But after the Davy episode, they will have to think again.'

Mr Bleach describes Wai as Davy's boss. 'Davy did nothing without Wai's approval. Wai backed the entire operation financially.'

Mr Bleach says he is ready to testify during Davy's trial in India. 'Remember, no Indian court has ever heard my story - astonishing, I know, but a fact. Unfortunately, there are a great many people - in Delhi as well as elsewhere - who really do not want any court to hear my story.'

Although the identities of Davy's alleged key accomplices, Haestrup and Wai, were known to Hong Kong and Indian police, they have never been caught. They melted into the shadows as Indian and Hong Kong police blamed each other.

But there is no doubt in Mr Bleach's mind that 'Hong Kong holds the key to unlock the dark secrets'. He believes to this day that New Delhi used Hong Kong as a staging post for a botched covert operation.

'I could be wrong,' he said, 'but the operation had all the hallmarks of a CIA job - possibly one offering covert support to an Indo-British attempt to destabilise Myanmar by arming Kachin rebels fighting the military junta'.