Dawood Ibrahim, India’s most-wanted fugitive who is believed to be living in Pakistan, has been back in the limelight since January 3, when Zee News reported that the United Arab Emirates had seized property belonging to him worth Rs 15,000 crores, apparently acting upon a confidential list of his properties made available by India.
“In what is believed to be the biggest ever crackdown on Mumbai serial blasts mastermind Dawood Ibrahim, a report on Tuesday claimed that the UAE government has seized the fugitive underworld don’s assets worth Rs 15,000 crore,” said a report with a “Zee Media Bureau” byline.
Intriguingly, the only specific reference in this report was to an earlier report by none other than Zee Media, which was described thus: “Zee Media on Tuesday claimed that Dawood has several properties, including hotels and shares in top rung companies in UAE.”
On January 4, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party tweeted that Dawood’s asset seizure was a “masterstroke diplomacy” by Narendra Modi.
The image that accompanied the tweet claimed that the Gulf country was acting on a list of Dawood’s assets that Modi gave the Emirati authorties during his visit to the country in 2015. It added that efforts are on to bring Dawood to face the law in India.
The BJP attributed all its claims to “media reports”.
After the Zee News report was endorsed by the BJP’s official Twitter handle, many media outlets republished the information.
However, apart from the Zee News report – which only cited its own earlier claims and that too about the mere existence of Dawood’s properties in UAE – there was no other information to corroborate the claims about the seizures.
Zee News editor, Sudhir Chaudhary, said his channel broke the news based on media reports. “All media organisations in the world publish news items based on media reports,” he told Scroll.in. “The same thing happened in this case.”
But there was no specific citation of even one such media report.
Newspapers in the Gulf have not carried reports about any action against Dawood, so it remains unclear which media reports Chaudhary was referring to.
After the initial comment, Chaudhary asked this correspondent to call him after 30 minutes as he was driving. However, he did not answer the calls despite repeated attempts.
The head of digital content at Zee Media Corporation Limited refused to comment on the issue.
An official of the Indian Embassy in Abu Dhabi told Scroll.in that it has not issued any communiqués to the media on the matter. “The Indian Embassy in UAE has noticed the reports appeared in media about the incident. But it hasn’t issued any official media release,” said Kapil Raj, Second Secretary at the Indian Embassy, who deals with the media.
Another news report in The Times of India claimed that the Indian intelligence and investigative agencies, as well as the ministry of external affairs, insisted that they were unaware of developments related to Dawood.
BJP stands by tweet
BJP spokesperson, Shrikant Sharma, told Scroll.in that he did not believe there was a problem with his party publicising these claimed seizures. He said that the BJP’s Information Technology department issued the tweet after obtaining the information from news outlets. “It is a big news and BJP cannot ignore it,” he said.
Asked what credible news outlets the party was basing its information on, Sharma replied: “Every media organisation gave the news the prominence it deserved. We just compiled important points for our tweet.”
However, senior journalists in the Emirates who have been following the reports confirmed that the UAE government had no information to give on the claimed asset seizure.
“Neither the UAE nor the Indian government has given details about the action till today,” said VM Sathish, who works with Khaleej Times, a leading English newspaper in UAE. “It raises questions about the credibility of the Zee News source.”
Another Indian journalist, who asked to remain anonymous, said that obtaining information – even a denial – from UAE government officials is next to impossible. “Being an absolute monarchy, all the government decisions are closely guarded secrets in this country,” he said. “No official will comment on issues that affect diplomatic relationships.”
Casting doubt about the accuracy of the reports, he said that if such an asset seizure had indeed taken place, India’s external affairs ministry would have announced the news. “If the seizure of the property actually happened, the ministry would be the first institution to tweet about Modi’s achievement,” he said. “Its silence is self-explanatory.”
The BJP’s Shrikant Sharma refuted this criticsm. He said everyone in a democracy has the freedom to make allegations. “We treat all the allegations with contempt,” he said. “The BJP stands by its position that action of the UAE government was a diplomatic strike and it is a big victory for Narendra Modi.”
The relationship between India and UAE got a big boost after Modi’s visit to the Gulf country in August 2015, the first by an Indian prime minister in three decades.
During the visit, the countries had agreed to co-operate on counter-terrorism operations and bring perpetrators of crime to justice, besides signing many trade deals. In a rare gesture, the UAE government had even allocated land for building the first temple in Abu Dhabi.
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