Aging ganglord Dawood Ibrahim urges associates to legitimise businesses, move to new regions

Dawood Ibrahim is nearly dead according to media reports, but if activities of his associates are taken as a yardstick of his health, India's most wanted fugitive may well be firmly ensconced in his Karachi home.

Firstly, one of his long time associates, Amjad Langda of Mumbai, married off his daughter on Saturday with loads of fanfare, confirmed top sources from Delhi and Mumbai. Secondly, there has been no let up in consignments of contraband travelling across the world. And lastly, there has been no mourning in Mumbai's Dongri neighbourhood, his home before Dawood fled to Dubai.

Sources claim it is getting extremely lonely at the top for the ganglord, who finds it difficult to trust almost any new face. The only relief is from the old associates who have stuck with him, and he has but little option to trust them. He keeps new faces and people at bay and there is a rigorous process to vet the credentials of new servants and syndicate members. Partnerships and deals are worked out by Chhota Shakeel and Tiger Memon. Security guards are carefully chosen.

The paranoia, Indian intelligence officials feel, is due to Dawood's fears that Indian spooks may have infiltrated the crime syndicate. A close watch is also kept on members of the crime organisation so that they are not compromised. The fear, many feel, has escalated since Ajit Doval took over as NSA.

File image of Dawood Ibrahim. CNN-News 18

File image of Dawood Ibrahim. CNN-News 18

In the Indian capital, meanwhile, BJP MP Subramanian Swamy tweeted that his sources from Beijing apparently spotted Dawood getting a prosthetic Jaipur Foot from a hospital and that he had asked for some more additional information. Asked if he had any insights to share, Swamy replied,  "I have nothing further to say beyond what I have tweeted."

But sources say that Dawood, still operating from Karachi, is now trying hard to overtake the businesses of his one-time friend turned foe, Ali Budhesh. "The near death situation of one of his close friends turned foe, Ali Budhesh, in a Bahrain hospital has given him more strength. Budhesh, who operated under various names, from Ali Baba, AB Bhai to Baba Budhesh, had a failed operation a year ago and is now lodged at an army hospital in Bahrain but is totally crippled to run his empire," said sources.

Budhesh, who once worked closely with Dawood, had a fallout over the latter not keeping his promise of gifting the Sheikh of Dubai a Rolls Royce in exchange for some favours done by the royal family. Eventually, it was Budhesh who bought a Rolls Royce for the Dubai ruler, but had a violent fallout with Dawood instead. Budhesh, claimed sources, tried hard to eliminate Dawood on three occasions, but was unsuccessful every time. But he did manage to dent some of Dawood's businesses, and even had his brother Anees behind bars for drug related charges in Dubai, Sharjah and Bahrain.

"Budhesh even tried teaming up with Arun Gawli and Babloo Srivastava to get rid of Dawood, but by then, the Don had shifted to the white-coloured Moin Palace building in Clifton Colony," the sources said.

There was another attempt on Dawood's life, by noted criminal Sher Singh Rana, currently lodged in Tihar Jail on charges of murdering MP Phoolan Devi, in July 2001. Rana, who was paid by Subhas Thakur for assassinating Dawood, camped near the Khyber highway that was used by the Don to undisclosed locations to meet members of the Russian mafia for dealings in diamonds and arms. But every time Rana wanted to blow up Dawood's cavalcade, he was informed at the last minute that the Don was not in the car and instead, Shakeel was travelling in his place. The mission has been aborted three times.

Rana eventually returned to India and claimed that he had bought relics and sand from the grave of Hindu King Prithviraj Chauhan, which were buried on the outskirts of Ghazni in Afghanistan. He even built a memorial in Etawah in Uttar Pradesh and claimed it contained the relics, though his claims were never verified by the Archeological Society of India (ASI).

An image of Dawood smoking a cigarette from a Sharjah corporate box taken during a cricket match routinely does the rounds in the Indian media, but he continues to remain a teetotaller, relying on loads of black lemon tea. A book on Mumbai's underbelly published last year, titled MumBhai, had a photograph of Dawood standing next to his swimming pool at his Karachi home in Pakistan.

But of late, sources claimed, he is increasingly encouraging his team to get into more legitimate businesses in countries like China, UK, Germany, Spain, Morocco, Cyprus, Nepal, Thailand, South Africa, Malaysia, Singapore, the US and a few countries in the Middle East. Conservative estimates peg his assets to a little over $500 million in the UK alone, and he is said to have invested in over 50 properties in different countries.

His Sahara Transport operates through a fleet of 1,200 top-end trucks, and along with Sahara Constructions, is into big buck arrangements in Pakistan and China. Dawood's Fire Gutka (a tobacco-laced betelnut product) is the largest selling brand in Pakistan and is also sold in the Middle East. The Don also has gone into the diamond trading business in South Africa, Angola and Russia. In 2015, Forbes estimated Dawood Ibrahim's net asset at $6.7 billion. It is currently in the region of $10-11 billion, sources claimed.

"There is the legal part of the business, and the illegal part of his business that ranges from fake currency, drugs, hawala dealings and small fire arms. This is driven by Chota Shakeel, his trusted lieutenant, and continues to thrive. An ageing Dawood no longer handles day to day operations of his group," the sources further said. "He is definitely trying to shift a significant portion of his business from Dubai to other destinations in the Middle East."

And there are enough reasons for the fugitive to do so. In January 2017, New Delhi pushed the government of United Arab Emirates (UAE) to seize Dawood's properties worth Rs 15,000 crore in Dubai. The bulk of Dawood's properties are in Bur Dubai, Jumeirah and Jumeirah Lake Towers. The move followed a demand made by National Security Agency (NSA) head Ajit Doval to UAE officials last year to seize Dawood's properties located there. Doval, then claimed an Indian television channel, had also offered a list of those properties.

This move followed the US government's declaration of Dawood Ibrahim as a global terrorist who has links with Al-Qaeda and is responsible for financing the terrorist activities of Lashkar-e-Taiba and other terrorist organisations operating from Pakistan and Afghanistan.

"The pressure on him is immense; he is trying hard to secure himself, and is handing over parts of his empire to close family members and relatives," says Vivek Agrawal, a Mumbai-based crime correspondent, who has tracked the underworld for more than two decades.

Agrawal, along with veteran crime reporter, Baljit Singh Parmar, is currently working on a book based on the life and crime of India's most wanted don. Titled The Dawood I Know, the book says India's most wanted fugitive is working overtime to grant legitimacy to his businesses. "But the trails of blood and crime are too thick to be erased," Aggarwal adds.

Updated Date: May 02, 2017 08:38 AM

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