About three months ago, Special Public Prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam and a senior Mumbai Police officer made a trip to the United States that was kept under wraps. It was during their visit that an informal agreement was struck with the US Department of Justice on David Coleman Headley being made an approver in the case against alleged 26/11 plotter Zabiuddin Ansari alias Abu Jundal in exchange for a pardon.
Sources said Headley’s request to a Mumbai court on Thursday, that he was ready to answer questions if granted pardon, did not come as a surprise to the prosecution as Nikam and Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime) Atulchandra Kulkarni had held meetings with FBI and Department of Justice officials in the US, impressing upon them their willingness to make Headley an approver in the case. The move had been cleared by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs.
“It was during this trip that an informal agreement was reached by the two sides that the US Department of Justice would convince Headley to testify in the trial in India in exchange for a pardon in the 26/11 case. Headley is already serving a 35-year jail sentence in the US for his role in 26/11 attacks. Since he would not be extradited to India due to his plea agreement with US authorities, this was seen as the best option available as his first-hand account as a co-conspirator would bolster the case,” said a source.
“While the National Investigation Agency’s case against Headley pertains to a wider conspiracy and is a separate case, his testimony in the 26/11 attacks could strengthen the case. His testimony could also lay bare the role of Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence in the 26/11 attacks,” said the source.
Clearing the decks for Headley’s deposition, Nikam had filed an application in a sessions court in Mumbai on October 8 for him to be tried along with Jundal. In the application, Nikam argued that the US court that convicted Headley for his role in the 26/11 attacks was not competent to try him for offences under the Indian Penal Code, especially for criminal conspiracy
under Section 120B.
The police sought the court’s permission to write to the US Department of Justice as Headley had been convicted in the US and was serving a jail term. On November 18, Judge G A Sanap directed them to arrange for Headley’s deposition on December 10.
Headley, who appeared through video-conferencing on Thursday, was pardoned by the Mumbai court on the condition that he would make full disclosure of the criminal conspiracy behind the attacks as well as his role and the role of others in it. His statement will be recorded by a TADA court on February 8.