Dongri to dubai six de.., p.20
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       Dongri to Dubai - Six Decades of the Mumbai Mafia, p.20
 

           S. Hussain Zaidi

  Sujata’s memory was a thing of the past. Dawood was so besotted by Mehjabeen and the role she played in his life, that the hardened criminal had gotten over his big flame.

  When Kashmiri saw what was happening, he was not happy. He promptly opposed the union, as any concerned father would. Dawood’s tarnished reputation was by now well-known among the Muslims of south Mumbai. However, ostensibly he buckled when he was told about Dawood’s father’s impeccable record as a policeman and a respectable man in the community. He agreed to give Dawood his daughter Mehjabeen’s hand in marriage.

  35

  Escape to Dubai

  A half-smoked cigar lay burning on an ashtray. A pen had just been laid down, fresh from scribbling. Impressions on the soft leather chair drawn up to the desk had just begun to fade, returning the seat to its original shape. A window was open, the curtains fluttered from the soft warm breeze that blew into the room. Everything in the room pointed to a presence, missing only the actual human form. As policemen looked around baffled, the cops turned to the huge trunk that dominated the room and broke open each and every corner of the room.

  The heavy odour of tobacco and smoke still hung in the air. The air conditioning in the room was running full blast, and the fragrance of Paco Rabanne still prevailed. It was certain that Dawood had just walked out of the room.

  Sometime in 1986, a crack team of Crime Branch sleuths had stormed Musafirkhana, the headquarters of the D Company just before midnight. The officers were stunned at the eerie quiet in the two-storied dilapidated building, which was usually the hub of activity even in the wee hours of dawn. People never slept in this building, especially those on the ground floor which housed the opulent office of Dawood Ibrahim.

  Today there was hardly anyone to be seen. Armed guards were posted at the gate, while other officers went about raiding each and every room in the building. Some were disturbed from sleep, others had to hurriedly abandon their love making. Residents were made to clear the room, while the policemen searched inside with ruthless meticulousness.

  The policemen were on the lookout for Dawood. They sought to ferret him out. But he was nowhere. Fifteen days after Mehjabeen and Dawood tied the knot, the Mumbai police began their crackdown on Dawood and other members of the fledgling underworld of the time. There was no way he could stay on in Mumbai, Dawood had realised. The police had managed only to seize Dawood’s cousin brothers and a number of his men, who were arrested from Musafirkhana, that same night. The crackdown was part of Police Commissioner D.S. Soman’s express orders. Soman had issued an urgent search and seize warrant for the arrest of Dawood Ibrahim. The police chief had carefully chosen his team of officers to ensure that Dawood would not be alerted about his imminent arrest. Since the time Soman had taken over the reins of the city police, he had carried out a sustained campaign against the mafia. Soman had given a free hand to the Crime Branch officers. Police Inspector Madhukar Zende had ensured that all the top criminals were either thrown behind bars or made to recant. Giants like Mastan and Karim Lala had been made to respect the law. Dawood was the only gangster who was still running free.

  Until now, Dawood had cleverly kept his cogs in the police machinery well-oiled. His moles always fulfilled their loyalties towards the don and tipped him off, usually giving him ample time to go underground and apply for anticipatory bail in court and evade arrest.Dawood had become too big for the Bombay police. In a way he had become Frankenstein’s monster—a creation of the Bombay police. The cops in their short-sighted wisdom had decided to promote one outlaw to tackle other outlaws. They presumed that it would be easier to undermine one outlaw in the end rather than dealing with a bunch of them. As Dawood would be their minion, their own puppet, he could never go out of control, they assumed.

  But Dawood outsmarted them. While the cops believed they were using Dawood to cut down top gangsters and dons to size, Dawood was actually using the cops to decimate his rivals. Nurtured by the police as their informer, Dawood had become the police’s nemesis, one that had grown its own head.

  From Bombay to Daman, electronic goods to silver and gold, Dawood had it all covered. Gujarat, which was earlier the stronghold of Pathans, had also been snatched away by Dawood. The Pathans’ clout was considerably diminished in the neighbouring state. Dawood was Bombay’s big man, partly due to its own police force.

  In 1982, Dawood was arrested under COFEPOSA of the Customs Act. For the first time in his life as a don, Dawood was arrested for smuggling. When he had been arrested in 1977, it had been for a robbery and he was treated as a petty thief. The police called him several times and detained him at the Crime Branch lockup. But after the killing of Sabir and his phenomenal growth, the cops had become a bit more particular in making arrests.

  Dawood was acquitted of all charges in 1983. His gang had reached its pinnacle of power in Bombay by this time, and violence erupted in flashes before the city’s authority. He was able to wreak havoc easily, in this city so controlled by gangsters.Dawood was high on the most wanted list post Samad Khan’s murder. Even his bail in earlier cases was cancelled so that he could be arrested in Samad Khan’s murder case. But he was absconding.

  Somehow, incredibly, Dawood had gotten a tip-off just in time, managing to escape minutes before the police party raided his headquarters. The police had been fooled, yet again. Soman was astonished when his men reported that Dawood had flown out of the coop. He could not believe that Dawood had such a well-entrenched network in the force. In a high level meeting the next day in the chamber of the police commissioner, further startling revelations were made.

  ‘How did he get wind of the information that we were about to arrest him?’ Soman asked.

  ‘Sir, he had got a phone call just 10 minutes before we reached the door at Musafirkhana and he escaped,’ said Sub-inspector Vinod Bhatt, checking the phone records. ‘Who alerted him?’ Soman was still incredulous, as the officers he had chosen were of impeccable character and integrity. Nobody knew at the time, but the Bombay police had made a grave mistake. When the small team was on Dawood’s heels, the police commissioner sought the consent and instructions for the mission from a senior politician in Mantralaya. This politician told the police commissioner that he wanted Dawood to be brought in alive at any cost. Only later did the inner circle of officers realise that a leak must have occurred in the flow of information, which gave Dawood the last-minute warning he needed to escape just before the police arrived. If the cops did not leak the information, the only source could have been the politician.

  ‘According to our information, he managed to reach the airport and catch a flight to Dubai,’ said an officer.

  ‘But we impounded his passport!’ Soman said, in disbelief.

  ‘Sir, his passport was in the custody of the Crime Branch and actually in the locker of officer Raja Tambat. We checked this morning and it is still sitting on its shelf,’ said Bhatt, with a wry smile.

  Dawood had managed to flee from Bombay and relocate to Dubai. He took a domestic flight to Delhi, and then a connecting flight to Dubai. He had bypassed their impounding of his passport and used another one to escape, with the cops at his doorstep. The boy who was born in Dongri may have escaped to Dubai, but his fiefdom continued to remain the same —Bombay.

  PART II

  1

  Making of an Empire

  In 1984, few Westerners could have located the city-state on a map, let alone speak authoritatively about the place and its people. Arabs, Iranians, Baluchis, East Africans, Pakistanis, and West Coast Indians, by contrast, had a deep historical acquaintance with Dubai. At the end of World War II, it was not much more than a coastal village which had survived largely on its wits as its only indigenous industry, pearl fishing, had been wiped out by the war and the Japanese development of cultured pearls. But in these barren years after pearls and before petrodollars, Dubai quietly resurrected its trading links across the St
raits of Hormuz with Iran and across the Arabian Sea with Bombay. As both Iran and India pursued policies of severe protectionism to build up their domestic industries, Dubai’s traders found they could exploit their own light taxation regime by importing all manner of material into Dubai and then exporting it to Iran and the subcontinent.

  In terms of influence, Dubai’s ruling Al Maktoum family ranked second only to the Al-Nahyans of Abu Dhabi. The discovery of huge oil reserves in the latter emirate proved godsend to Dubai, which was struggling to establish a form of stability, and the other five emirates that formed the new state of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in 1973 after the British decided to withdraw all its forces east of Suez. At present rates of extraction, Abu Dhabi’s oil will last for another 200 years. After less than half a century, the Al-Nahyan fortune (which is interchangeable with Abu Dhabi’s capital reserves) is estimated to stand at around $500 billion, making the fortunes of Abramovich and the other Russian oligarchs look paltry in comparison.

  Abu Dhabi has been generous in its subsidies to the six other emirates of the UAE, which have no comparable oil fields. But it is a measure of the perceptiveness of the Al Maktoum leadership in Dubai which as early as the seventies began preparing for a future when Abu Dhabi would no longer be content to underwrite the federal budget. Dubai has modest oil reserves, which still account for 15 per cent of the city-state’s income, but these will dry up within the next decade. The Al Maktoums decided to diversify; probably spurred on by the traditionally competitive relationship with the Al-Nahyans. Thus they conceived the plan to build Jebel Ali port, with its sixty-six berths becoming the largest marine facility in the Middle East.

  While critics scoffed at this grandiose project, the decision to create the new port and trading zone was quickly vindicated. In 1979, Dubai learned a valuable lesson from the Iranian Revolution and Soviet invasion of Afghanistan: frightened by the instability in their own countries, Iranian and Afghan traders moved to Dubai, bringing with them their business and bolstering Dubai’s economy. With neither income nor sales tax, Dubai steadily developed a reputation of being a safe place in the Middle East to stash your money. Since then, the emirate has always boomed during a regional crisis.

  This quality has enabled Dubai to attract leading figures from many industries over the past decade. Viktor Bout, renowned as the Merchant of Death in Africa and Central Asia, used to park his planes in Sharjah, Dubai’s neighbouring emirate ten miles away, while he received his cheques for services rendered to warring factions through the Standard Chartered Bank branch there. Gangsters and their dark professions are therefore well represented in Dubai, in that they have always looked at and treated Dubai as a safe haven for their headquarters. But their individual stories are usually well-rehearsed elsewhere; the action takes place everywhere but Dubai. They also play cameo roles in a much bigger drama, which is the city itself.

  ­­­Dubai is a microcosm of globalisation—85 per cent of its population are immigrants drawn from dozens of nations around the world. There are several lingua francas, each offering its own advantage—English for the Brave New World of Emirate futurism; Urdu/Hindi for those who trade in gold or drive taxis; Arabic for the Master Planners; Russian or Pushtu to buy or sell cars; and Chinese for the times ahead. The location is perfect, rendering it a haven of peace and stability in a notoriously unstable region where Asia, Europe, and Africa meet. Behind them, the immigrants leave Europe’s weather and taxes, India’s exhausting noise, or Africa’s pain in exchange for a life in Dubai where they buy, sell, and chase the dollar. With no tax to pay, this is the rawest form of commerce and for those who hit pay dirt, the rewards are immense; as a result, you cannot get off the treadmill of wealth creation for a single minute.

  The city also witnessed a huge growth in investment by Western companies seeking to get a slice of the market. Dubai could not countenance the imposition of rigorous controls on the import and export of money, which the United States was demanding at the time, as this would have confounded the city’s unique selling point—‘Bring your money to Dubai: No questions asked!’—and undermined the entire strategy of turning the place into the trading and financial pivot between Africa, Europe, and Asia. It naturally started to develop the largest money market. And there was no control over this whatsoever—you could take as much money out and bring as much in as you liked, whether in suitcases full of cash, converted into gold bars or diamonds, through one of the many banks founded to take advantage of this ever-growing flow, or through the hawaldars and hundis, the unlicensed money changers who are the mainstay of the informal financial economy on which the migrant labourers depend.

  The development of Dubai began in the late sixties, especially after independence from Britain and the 1973 oil crisis, which triggered an influx of petrodollars for infrastructural development of the city. Dubai’s own oil stocks were a small fraction of Abu Dhabi’s, leading to an initial dependency on the neighbouring emirate. As a result, the ruling Al Maktoum family strove to find alternative revenue sources as a means of lessening this dependence on the al-Nahayans. From the outset, this inspired Dubai’s historical role as a trading entrepôt on the Arabian Sea, linking the commerce of Iran with that of Karachi, Bombay, and the east coast of Africa. Dubai’s relationship with Bombay had powerful political roots because the city was earlier administered during the Raj from the Bombay presidency.

  The expat Western community had begun to grow soon after the opening of a modern airport in the late sixties. Like the Indian, Pakistani, and Iranian communities, they kept to themselves. Yet all communities had much closer relations with local Emiratis although they did not mix with each other much, even if it was to simply maintain a good rapport with those who were sheltering them. One does not bite the hand that feeds one. Communities did not live in the informally segregated areas that exist now. There were very few villas and most people lived in relatively small apartments. Furthermore, access to the ruling family was relatively easy. Prominent members of all communities had no problem paying a visit to Sheikh Rashid and in particular his younger family members, including his successor, the current ruler Sheikh Mohammed, known as Sheikh Mo. If there was an issue affecting a particular economic sector or a particular community, the family was open to frank discussions on the issues. Any Indian, Pakistani, or Irani having some clout in their country of origin, affluence, and connections could easily set up a meeting with Sheikh Rashid or his relatives and discuss business.

  Dawood Ibrahim was aware of this when he and Khalid Pehelwan had started gold smuggling from Gujarat and subsequently from Bombay sometime in 1981. It was this accessibility and the growing business interests of the royal family that Dawood and his men decided to exploit.

  Although Dubai’s airport was modern by Middle Eastern standards, bureaucracy was slow, hopeless but in its own way endearing. There was no special treatment for any community — Indians, Westerners, Africans, Iranians were all treated the same way. Queuing for various permits and licences took hours and often met with frustration but the pace of life was extremely leisurely and nobody minded. Palestinians were in control of many aspects of the bureaucracy—the Emiratis were not yet interested in sinecure posts and this was convenient employment for the Palestinian diaspora. This also reinforced the lack of discrimination although it made for a very arbitrary process.

  Till 1980, the number of Pakistani migrants to Dubai was very high, as their country was plagued by civil wars and their economy was in shambles. Also, being a Muslim helped with the already lenient authorities of Dubai. However, from the early eighties, the Indian community began to eclipse the Pakistani community in size and influence, although some of the older Pakistani families boasting greater commercial success were better able to integrate into Emirati society. Along with the Indians, the most important trading community were the Iranians who had migrated to Dubai in the first decade of the twentieth century to escape the high import tariffs impose
d by the Persian government.

  Then there was Mirdith, which lay about 6 to 7 km into the desert beyond the airport. The UAE government started to modernise the area in 1982 by erecting twenty-six houses and twenty-six condominiums in an area of some 20 square kilometres, and putting in a road network; clearly thinking ahead. Mirdith was the first upper-middle-class area shared by wealthy Westerners, Emiratis, and Indians, and it is now teeming with residents.

  Dubai may be soulless, but a kind of honesty underpins its fantasy reality as a pleasure dome for the world’s super-rich. Only two things rule here: the dollar and Sheikh Mo. Dubai may be a huge, undemocratic, money laundering centre in the Middle East but the country embraces free trade and globalisation, it is stable in a region renowned for violence, it has not relied on oil for its wealth but invented itself as a novel force in the Arab world. Furthermore, as long as the United States and Europe permit the existence of offshore banking centres, they remain guilty of hypocrisy. For organised crime, these are equally important instruments, offering flags of convenience, shell companies to disguise illegal activities and freedom from prying tax authorities. The only credible reason for their growth and success is the fact that many corporations in the ‘illicit’ economy use them for exactly the same reasons they are used in Dubai, especially tax evasion. Once a house or apartment is registered under an individual’s name, he or she has successfully ‘washed’ the money and it can be reintroduced into the legitimate financial system anywhere in the world.

 
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