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Green Traveler in Indian Terrorism Trial

February 28, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

Andy Pag (35, London), the green traveler attempting to drive around the world in a vegetable oil powered bus, is due to face trial in an Indian court after being arrested on suspicion of terrorism when police found he was possession of a satellite phone, however the case has been delayed for the 4th week today by police repeatedly failing to meet court deadlines to finalize the charges against him.

Biotruck Expedition sent over the following information:
Feb 10, 2010

No department issues sat phone permits

Complex Indian anti-terror laws require satellite phone holders to obtain a permit, however there is no information on any Government of India website, or at ports of entry, warning foreign visitors about the laxly enforced rule.

In a further twist, Pag’s lawyer, Prateek Kasliwal, has since discovered there appears to be no government department which actually issues permits for satellite phones.

Prison

“I’m very sorry and embarrassed I appear to have broken the rules. I had no idea. I’ve used this phone in over 30 countries and I’ve never been asked for a permit before.” said Pag who has already spent 3 days languishing in police cells and a further 4 days in the harsh prison of Ajmer, Northern India, while the Regional Police and three separate Indian anti-terror forces investigated his background.

“But I’m certainly not a threat to India’s national security and I think the police realized that very quickly last month. I only brought the sat phone because I was worried about kidnappings by terrorists in Pakistan. I haven’t used it at all in India.”

Searching for evidence of terrorist connections

Pag’s arrest in Pushkar, Rajasthan over a month ago on January 11, was followed by 100 officers sweeping through the town searching for evidence of terrorist connections to the green adventurer, who has previously driven a chocolate-powered lorry to Timbuktu and organized the Grease to Greece rally for cars running on waste cooking oil scavenged from restaurants across Europe, to test the viability for sustainable fuels.

The night time raid on his vegetable oil powered eco bus by 10 armed officers lead by Indian Military Intelligence, came amidst heightened security for a visit by the Bangladeshi president to a nearby town 20 km away, and Pag is the first person ever to be charged under Indian law for possessing a satellite phone.

Fail to submit charges

Terrorists used similar phones during the Mumbai shootings a year ago, and the heavy handed approach may also be a reaction to earlier press criticism of local police after a known terrorist, David Coleman Headley, evaded capture by Pushkar police twice.

The investigating officer, Superintendent Tak today for the 4th time failed to submit charges against Pag in time for the court deadline, triggering another weeks delay, citing a busy schedule policing local elections as the reason.

Supt. Tak this week pointed out “There are more elections coming up next week.” hinting that the situation may again be delayed at the next court deadline on February 17, but sources close to the officer suggest the true reason is that police are waiting for local media interest to die down, lessening their embarrassment over the arrest.

Meanwhile Pag is held in limbo effectively forced to stay in the region, but with a non-renewable tourist visa that expires on February 22.

Trapped in this catch-22

When the trial eventually does start, it’s likely to take several days and Pag, currently freed on bail, if convicted could be sentenced to more time in Ajmer prison where inmates sleep on cold stone floors and have limited access to hygiene facilities.

“The thought of going back there is truly terrifying. I can’t believe that a Judge would rule prison is a fair punishment for the easy-to-make bureaucratic mistake I appear to have made, but until the police finish their investigation the trial can’t start and I’m trapped in this catch-22.”

Legal costs dented the travel budget

Pag, whose full name is Andrea Pagnacco and has dual British and Italian nationality, has so far powered his round the world journey 16,500 km with sustainable fuels, like used cooking oil and biofuels made from waste vegetable oils sourced along the route.

Regardless of the trial outcome, the rest of the trip is now in jeopardy as court and legal costs have significantly dented his travel budget, making it unlikely he will be able to afford to complete the global journey.

“The trip was going so well until this happened, it’s heartbreaking to be dealt such a blow over something so unexpected. I just wish it would get sorted out quickly and reasonably.” said Pag. End.

Andy can be contacted at andy(a)biotruck.co.uk or +91 987 2066 981 (Indian cell/mobile)

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