Kim Davy: The one that got away
Twenty-four years after Kim Davy dumped a planeload of weapons in West Bengal, India seems to have given up on bringing the Dane to justice
When a Gulfstream jet touched down at the Delhi airport on the night of December 4, it was correctly hailed as a big win for the Modi government. The airplane that flew in from Dubai carried Christian Michel, the middleman in the AgustaWestland helicopter deal.
A week later, the government’s efforts to bring ‘fugitives’ back to face justice in India received another boost when a UK court cleared the way for the extradition of Vijay Mallya, an order the businessman plans to challenge.
But, what of Niels Holck, better known as Kim Davy? The Dane masterminded the dumping of a plane-load of weapons in West Bengal, chronicled his crime in a book and also triggered a five-year freeze in bilateral ties. Even after 24 years, Davy is nowhere close to being brought to India. In fact, if last week’s developments are anything to go by, India has virtually given him a free pass.
“The problem has been solved in the political sense. There is a dialogue between the authorities and what we agreed upon last April was we should rely on independent authorities to do their work,” Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen, in India for the Vibrant Gujarat summit, said of Davy’s extradition.
“We did not touch upon the subject all yesterday. The last we talked about it was in April in Stockholm,” Rasmussen said in Delhi on January 19, an obvious reference to his discussions with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Gandhinagar. The two leaders had also met during the Indo-Nordic summit in Stockholm in April 2018.
By all measures, it was a good visit for Rasmussen, who also inaugurated a cultural centre in Delhi. While he may derive satisfaction from the setting up of the Danish centre--some Danes retain a nostalgia for their once tiny settlements in Tamil Nadu and West Bengal--he is obviously most satisfied at India giving up political and diplomatic tracks for the extradition of Davy to stand trial in the infamous 1995 Purulia arm’s drop case.
Denmark’s record in the Davy affair has been so dubious that, in abandoning the political and diplomatic paths and trusting Rasmussen, the Modi government may have made a serious misjudgement. This is especially because Rasmussen was the prime minister in 2010-2011 when his government and “its independent authorities” ensured Davy was not extradited.
Davy has made no secret of his role in dropping large number of arms from an aircraft in Puralia district of Bengal in late December 1995. The AN-26 flew from Karachi, re-fuelled in Varanasi and on way to Kolkata deviated from its flight path and dumped the arms, which investigators said included AK-47 rifles, anti-tank grenades, rocket launchers and thousands of rounds of ammunition.
The plane then touched down in Kolkata and went to Thailand. Once the arms were discovered, the government acknowledged the enormous security breach and confiscated the cache. It was then suspected that the arms were meant for the Ananda Marga sect.
A few days later, the aircraft again flew into India and re-fuelled in Chennai. It was intercepted and forced to land in Mumbai. Davy and others were on board. While the others were arrested, Davy managed to flee India.
The Central Bureau of Investigation charged Davy and others. As he surfaced in his home country, the Danish government was approached in 2008 so that he could be tried in India.
Davy has not denied his role. In fact, he claimed that the arms drop was a conspiracy hatched by Indian intelligence agencies. The Danes took India’s request lightly and acted in an obstructive manner. They didn’t rule out extradition outrightly but sought assurances, which they thought India would not accede to.
After India assured that Davy would be treated well, the Danes sat on the matter for months. When reminded, they sought more assurances-- about the trial and that if convicted, Davy would serve his sentence in Denmark. These too were given. In both cases, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s cabinet had considered these requests. Danes again took their time before ordering Davy’s extradition in April 2010. He challenged the order in court.
A few months later, when Danish foreign minister Lene Espersen visited India in December, her Indian counterpart, SM Krishna, told her that unless Davy was sent to India, the relationship would suffer. Krishna was sometimes ridiculed in the media for his absent-mindedness. But as a staunch nationalist, he always upheld the country’s honour.
Davy took the plea that his human rights would not be secure in India. As the case proceeded, it became obvious that the Danish government lawyers were not vigorously defending the extradition order. Their interaction with the visiting CBI officers, too, was unsatisfactory. A Danish court disallowed Davy’s extradition in early 2011.
Under pressure from India, the Danish government went in appeal. Again, serious efforts were not made to convince the court that Davy would get a fair trial in India. The appeal was dismissed in July 2011. The Danish “independent authorities” could have asked for a review but did not. Clearly, the Rasmussen government’s assessment was that India would pocket the insults and continue with the ties.
Krishna was of the view that Denmark could not be simply allowed to treat India with such disdain. He decided to downgrade the ties till Davy was sent for trial. That situation continued till 2016.
Denmark was keen to resume full diplomatic and economic ties, without acting against Davy. It lobbied the UPA ministers but to no avail, though some felt India’s decision was too severe.
Denmark also took part in successive Vibrant Gujarat summits. The Danish government continued with intense lobbying with the Modi government that took office in 2014. It appears in 2016, Denmark assured India that the extradition request could be made afresh and it would be seriously pursued. A fresh request was made and political contact restored.
Since then, the Danish foreign minister has visited India in 2017 and 2018. Official statements talked about commitment to upgrading trade and economic ties and also the process of diplomatic consultation but there was no mention of Davy. Nor, according to Rasmussen, did it figure in recent talks between the two prime ministers. As per the Danish leader, in the Stockholm meeting Modi and he agreed to keep the political track separate and let the “independent authorities” do their work.
It has been two years that the Modi government has trusted Denmark in the Davy case. Has there been any real movement? Senior officials appear to be hopeful. While it is good to be so, they should not overlook Denmark’s record and there is no public indication that the Scandinavian nation is serious in sending Davy to India. It is time that the Modi government pursues the matter as it did in Christian Michel’s case.
If Denmark continues to act tardily, it would only be appropriate to revert to the old freeze. National dignity demands it. Powers that allow themselves to be treated lightly are so treated—always.
(The writer is a retired Indian Foreign Service officer)
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