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Friday, 19 February 2010


I’m launching this email petition and hoping that everyone that’s been so supportive already, will help by sending the email below to the Indian High Commissioners in London and in Rome, as well as to the only email address I could find for the Ministry of Home Affairs.

Please add your name and home town at the bottom of the email and of course you can edit the contents as you see fit. Tell your friends about it (facebook it, tweet it, talk about it at work...) and invite them to send emails too. Hopefully if enough people send it, it will have an impact.

This is my last resort and I hope it will motivate the officer to complete his investigation. There is no legal time limit. It’s already been 6 weeks, and until they do I am trapped in India.

Thanks for your help.


Subject: The Criminal Case Against Andrea Pagnacco (aka Andy Pag).

For the attention of:
Mr P. Chidambaram, The Indian Minister of Home Affairs
Mr. Nalin Surie, The Indian High Commissioner in London,
And Mr. Arif Shahid Khan, the Indian Ambassador in Rome


Andrea Pagnacco (publicly known as Andy Pag) was arrested for possession of a satellite phone in Pushkar, Rajasthan, and charged under anti-terrorism laws on the 11th of January. After 7 days in prison he was released on bail after the judge criticised police for their approach and ruled there was no evidence to suggest he was a national security risk.

Now after 6 weeks, the police have still not submitted a chargesheet to the court, missing the dates of 5 hearings set by the judge. Until they do, Mr Pagnacco is held on bail unable to leave India.

Mr Pagnacco has provided all the evidence required by Investigating Officer Superintendent Tak of Ajmer Police, Rajasthan, including an email correspondence from the satellite phone operator confirming his phone has not been used in India. Its authenticity is simple to confirm with a phone call, fax or email.

However SP Tak has publicly stated that he is too busy with local elections. This is surprising considering that he drafted in over 100 officers for the investigation on the day of the arrest, but now has no manpower to conclude it.

While I appreciate that India needs to be vigilant to terror attacks, the police have admitted to Mr Pagnacco and his lawyer that they are now assured he is not a National Security threat, but continue to delay filing any charges against him.

Please can you request that the Ministry of Home Affairs confirm with Additional Superintendent Tak of Ajmer Police (Mobile +919414173337, Office +91 145 262 7700) that this investigation is proceeding at an appropriate pace.

Thank you for your understanding and help in this matter.


This is the reply sent to my MP after he contacted the British Embassy in Delhi on my behalf.

thank you for your e-mail to the High Commissioner, he has asked me to reply as head of the Consular Department here.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office's policy on offering consular assistance to dual nationals is clearly laid out in our guide 'Support for British nationals abroad'. As Mr Pagnacco is a dual national travelling on his Italian passport the Italian Embassy is responsible for offering him consular assistance while he is in India and we understand that consular staff at the Italian Embassy in Delhi are doing so. I have attached a link to the the guide for your information.

The British High Commission has on several occasions raised with the Indian authorities the fact that foreigners who are bailed or involved in court cases in India experience problems with their immigration documents. In our experience it is unlikely that the immigration authorities will agree to extend Mr Pagnacco's visa while a court case is pending. From experience in similar cases, the most practical way for Mr Pagnacco to resolve the problem would be for him to contact the Superintendent of Police in Ajmer, where he was arrested, and request a written order stating that he is required to remain in India until his case his completed. This order can then be produced when he would otherwise show a visa, for example when checking into a hotel. The Police may need to liaise with the Ministry of Home Affairs in Delhi to issue this order. As Mr Pagnacco's visa was on his Italian passport he may wish to ask the Italian Embassy to support his request.


Catherine O'Neill

Vice Consul

British High Commission,

New Delhi

I'd asked them to raise my case to the attention of the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs. The Italian Embassy have done this already (twice). It took the form of a 20 minute meeting and I understand they'd invited their UK counterparts to join them. They declined. Before the second meeting the Italian consul had with the MHA I also phoned Catherine to invite her, suggesting they could send someone as an "observer", seeing as they have publicly stated they are "keeping a close eye on the situation". They again declined to send anyone to the meeting.

Catherine was unaware I had been released on bail when I called her 3 days later, so the phrase "keeping a close eye on the situation" quoted in the UK papers was little more than back covering PR, and made me think of what a chef does when he watches a pig on a spit roast. Catherine: if you are keeping as diligent an eye on my website, please feel free to respond (assuming consular regulations allow you to post comments on an Dual National's blog)

It's frustrating that they have been so recalcitrant. Perhaps a joint approach from both Italian and British embassies would have made the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs sit up and take (some/more) notice of what's happening out in Rajasthan, and invite local cops to chivvy things along a bit? Perhaps not, but it really wouldn't have taken much.

Consuls can't do a great deal in foreign countries, aside from personal contacts and a bit of mutual back scratching. But India functions on that, and the more people you can ask to make a call on your behalf, the more likely something is to unlock for you. I wasn't asking them to threaten India with trade sanctions, just a quiet word in the right ear.


“No one needs to worry about India’s nuclear arsenal. If they ever chose to launch a strike it would take them a month to get the paperwork ready.” – A tourist hoping to extend his visa in Delhi.

On all my travels I’ve only paid bribes when there’s no other option, I’m happier to sit things out than reach for the wallet. People that know me will say it’s because I’m tight, but I like to think I’m setting a moral precedent. My case here in India has been too high profile for anyone to dare ask for baksheesh and I certainly haven’t felt that offering it would help resolve things. So famous is the “Andy Case”, that this month, I’ve been on the front cover of the Rajasthan Times of India more often that Shah Ruhk Kahn, Bollywood’s answer David Beckham, whose latest film in which he plays a Muslim accused of terrorism, has provoked riots in cinemas.

Bribes work very differently in India than in Africa. In Africa you pass some notes to get a cop to drop his beef against you. The cause for dispute vanishes and you are on your way. Here, bribes work the opposite way. Instead of bribing someone to turn a blind eye, you tip them so they’ll pay attention to your case, actually deal with it and not to shove it sideways into oblivion.

In Africa there is softness about the process too. You’re getting shafted, and everybody knows it, but everyone also knows that the situation will work itself out in the end. Here in India it’s harsher. Procedure is king, regardless of the human consequences. There’s no empathy at all. Most minor bureaucrats, the foot soldiers of the state have no real power and live in mortal fear of making a mistake, a risk made all the more real by the fact that most know enough to know they don’t understand the full scope of what they do. Saying yes is a big risk, but even saying no could be risky, so the best thing is to sideline everything but the most straightforward. Search diligently through the paperwork to find a reason why it can’t be dealt with now or here. African cops risk their jobs by letting you off the hook, here they are taking a risk by dealing with you.

I thought my newspaper cuttings would be a help. But I’ve learnt that showing them is really counterproductive. “Oh God!” I see them thinking as they’ve stared eyes agog at the inch thick pile of print outs “Making any decision about this guy is way too risky. Park him, Pass him on, but don’t finalise anything.”

This decision-avoiding attitude has now become even more important for the front line bureaucrat as the fear of terrorists posing as tourists grips the nation. Imagine you let this guy do what he wants and he turns out to be a terrorist. The government has instigated new visa rules to catch these terrorist miscreants out, but of course they only serve to make life difficult for genuine visitors, (shorter stays, no return within 2 months, no change of purpose, no extension...). The changes are badly communicated to India’s embassies, who misinform travellers, who end up screwed.

A Scotsman moving to India was told by the embassy in Scotland he had to come on a tourist visa and then change it to residency. Here he is told this is impossible once in India, and has to fly back to Scotland to start again. He knows he’ll be told the same thing when he goes back.

A French woman spends 2 days extending her visa by 4 days. An English couple are told they don’t have the papers to take their surrogate child home. A Manchunian tennis coach is driven to quit his job because extending the visa is practically impossible.

It’s as depressing as Lunar House in Croydon, the UK’s immigration centres for the South East, which I used to visit when I worked undercover for a documentary that exposed abuses by officers in the Immigration support service. Full of people just trying to live their lives, dehumanised and told they can’t.

The visa rules are just one aspect of India’s ineffectual security measures which will never have an impact on the sort of terror threat this country is facing. Every government building has a metal detector gateway. Uniformed police make sure you don’t walk around it, but it’s no problem when your pocket knife triggers it, as long as you’ve walked through it.

At Jaisalmer House, India’s Lunar House, my mum alerts police to an unattended bag twice. The first cop ignores her, the second one responds with a shrug.

In Connaught Place, Delhi’s focal point, extra police have been drafted in to patrol the area. Looking for an internet cafe, I ask one where Sector N is. It turns out it’s round the next corner, but he has no idea where it is. So if the order came over the radio to apprehend a suspect in Sector N or evacuate Sector N because of bomb alert, how long is it going to take him to react? That’s assuming the batteries in his radio have enough charge to last the shift.

Anywhere in the world, these types of police-state security measures have a tiny chance of being effective. They are never going to stop anyone but the dumbest terrorist. OK, the type of village yokels who sign up to being a jihadist suicide bomber probably aren’t any sharper than the average Indian village cop, but the people that indoctrinate them and run their missions are, and they are the ones police have to outsmart.

The only way to defend a nation against this kind of terrorism is to make peace with your enemies. India and Pakistan are on the verge of talks, and the explosion in Pune (Poona) two days ago runs the risk of destabilising them, or at the very least skewing the agenda as politicians posture to show they are tough. Hopefully politicians on both sides will have the real courage needed to hold fast to the talks, or the perpetrators of this comparatively small blast will succeed in destabilising Indian peace far beyond the 11 fatalities caused by their explosion.

India has made life progressively harder for tourists since it fell out of love with the 70s hippy invasion. Smaller countries with less to offer have much higher numbers of inbound tourists. From my biased perspective, I’d say they’ve really taken a turn for the worst in the last few months; with these new visas rules, suspicion of tourists being undercover terrorists, and now the confirmation that it’s tourists that are being targeted in the attacks as much as Indians. I (deluded) believe the “Andy Case” is the symptom of the new vanguard of even less welcoming, even less accommodating India. A couple of British plane spotters were arrested yesterday for having “High tech equipment that allowed them hear airplane communications”, er... , that will be a VHF radio then. Let’s go to Thailand.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Jail Break

In prison Bablu, looked after me. He was in there for raping a Japanese girl. He told me they’d been together for 2 weeks, had a fight and she’d gone to the police shouting rape. All I know is his version of it, and that in prison you accept the version people tell you about themselves because that’s all there is.

He, his gang of mates, and his dad (in the next wing for murder over a property feud) kept me sane, clean, fed and more.

Bablu asked me for a Japanese dictionary so he can learn the language while he’s inside. He likes Japanese girls, and I figure not having a language barrier would help prevent any future “misunderstandings”. Ok it’s morally complicated, but apart from my rather lame justification, he helped me out when he could have written me off as a suicidal murderer, so the least I can do is give him a dictionary. It’s not like I’m supplying him with a box of Rohipnol. I asked my mum to pick one up in Istanbul and bring it because I couldn’t find anything here in India.

Yesterday I finally met Bablu’s mum and gave her the dictionary. A formidable woman who has forged herself a career in politics so she can look after her husband and son in prison, and her other son in long term traction after a car accident. She’s a broad, beautiful woman with a glare like a tiger set to pounce. It was the day Bablu was to be released from prison on parole for 21 days. The first time the 23 year old has been out in 4 years.

She puts on makeup, perfume and is dancing in the car on the way to Ajmer court. At the court there’s a hitch with the paperwork. “Andy, Come” she shoves me in the back of the car and we set off. An hour later we are still driving along the highway. We’re on our way to a village to get a signature from a guarantor. I’m the only one that seems concerned that we won’t make it back in time. The driver has his foot down, so when the truck in front unexpectedly switches into our lane its lucky he can skid enough speed out of the car that only the bonnet is crunched under the high truck chassis. Another 10mph and our heads would all have been separated from our torsos.

The truck continues oblivious to the impact at the back, but as soon as our driver has it together he accelerates round the truck and pulls it over blocking the 2 lane highway. In a second the 3 guys I’m with are out of the car, dragging the truck driver from his cab giving him a brutal beating in the process. I’m momentarily distracted from the pain of the violence by the fact that everyone is punching with open hand slaps rather than fists, but I’m impressed by how hard the slaps look, as hard as any punch.

As soon as I’ve snapped out of my interesting cultural observations about how seemingly calm natured Indians unleash such venomous anger, I wade in too, to protect the drive who is visibly petrified for his life, tears streaming as he gulps to breathe in through the shock. I get in between the mob and the driver, getting a few misdirected slaps myself.

“This guy almost killed us Andy, come.” I’m being wrenched to the left by the mum.

“OK, wait, he wasn’t trying to kill us, it was an accident” I get another accidental slap from the right.

Eventually it all calms down so they are talking to each other and the driver is only getting slapped every now and again. A cop turns up and everyone agrees to leave it there, perhaps motivated by the fact that no one has a driver’s license or insurance.

But even as a believer in non-violence, I have to concede that it’s a great system. No insurance forms to fill, no no-claims bonuses lost. You have a prang, beat the shit out of whoever is responsible for 10 minutes and then everyone climbs into their vehicles and forgets about it.

Five o’clock rolls around and we aren’t back at the court in time, not by a long way. I call Bablu to break the news. He’s livid. The next day is a bank holiday and then it’s a weekend, so it means he has to stay in prison another 4 days until Monday. I can hear all same the rage in his voice that I had when my bail hearing stretched over the weekend and I had to wait another 2 nights for the decision, but my 4 days inside don’t compare the 4 years he’s been waiting. If only the prison system worked as fast as the roadside justice.