MUMBAI (Reuters) - A government-appointed auctioneer has sold off a Mumbai restaurant once owned by India’s most wanted man, fugitive mafia boss Dawood Ibrahim, in a rare sale of seized property that attracted wary bidders and tight security on Wednesday.
Indian police have been unable to trace Ibrahim for decades and have struggled to get a grip on his property.
But for a deposit of just 4,000 rupees ($60), would-be buyers bid on Wednesday even for a 15-year-old green Hyundai Accent sedan he purportedly owned, now parked outside a community hall in a working-class Mumbai suburb.
Ibrahim’s currently shuttered restaurant, in south Mumbai’s bustling Bhendi Bazaar, was sold for 42.8 million rupees ($640,540) and will now be used by a charity working with women and children, who will use it as a computer training center.
“I got messages asking me to stay away. That for me only confirmed the underworld’s interest in this property... I felt this was my national duty,” said former journalist S. Balakrishnan, who put in the winning offer on behalf of the charity he founded, Desh Seva Samiti.
He has appealed to the public to help fund the bid.
Ibrahim, reported to be hiding in neighboring Pakistan, runs D Company, a crime syndicate Indian authorities accuse of engaging in murder, extortion and weapons-smuggling.
He is also accused of financing Islamist militant groups and of masterminding bomb and grenade attacks in Mumbai in March 1993 that killed 257 people and wounded more than 700.
Ibrahim fled India in the 1980s and has since eluded the authorities, although the arrest last month of a former partner in Indonesia - Rajendra Nikalje, known as Chhota Rajan - is thought to be part of a strategy to hunt him down.
The Indian government has battled for years to confiscate properties held not only by Ibrahim but by his relatives in Mumbai, and has been held up by repeated court appeals.
The auctioneer and officials at the government body administering confiscated property declined to comment or confirm the sale of other items due to go under the hammer.
Balakrishnan said all items were sold.
($1 = 66.8188 Indian rupees)
Reporting by Clara Ferreira Marques; Editing by Douglas Busvine and Clarence Fernandez/Mark Heinrich