The Al Capone of India
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because the alleged Mumbai bomber may finally face justice.
By Seth Ferranti
The blasts rocked Bombay. Thirteen bombs exploded within a three-hour period on March 23, 1993, killing 260 people and injuring 700. Most of the victims were Hindu, targeted in retaliation for the 1,100 Muslims viciously murdered during the Hindu-Muslim strife and riots that had plagued the city just months before.
By mid-1994, recovery in Mumbai, as the city is known today, seemed well underway, with media outlets reporting a return to business as usual. But what many hadn’t realized was that the bombings created a rift in India’s underworld, splitting Bombay’s mafia along religious lines.
The reigning godfather, or don, of Bombay, Dawood Ibrahim, is suspected of using his Dawood Company — aka D-Company, a group of organized criminals, most of them Muslims — to orchestrate the retaliatory blasts. In one fell swoop, Ibrahim catapulted himself from mafia king to global terrorist, forever associating himself with the likes of al-Qaida rather than John Gotti. When Ibrahim reportedly fled Bombay for Dubai hours before the bombs hit, he likely knew he would never see India again. But his influence didn’t leave with him; Ibrahim continued to rule Bombay’s black markets, overpowering stiff competition and exacerbating his fierce rivalry with his Hindu counterparts.
Ibrahim is a godfather of organized crime in the classic sense.
Ron Chepesiuk, author
“Dawood and his gang D-Company still enjoy supremacy in the Mumbai underworld,” says Vivek Agrawal, author of Mum’bhai, a book about the city’s underworld. “[His] gang is in over 50 countries around the world. He has business interests in all types of illegal and legal activities.” These business dealings purportedly involve fake currency, drugs, small-arms dealings and blood diamonds, plus legitimate interests like shipping and construction — basically, wherever there’s room to profit.
Dawood, the son of a police constable, got his criminal start as a small-time street-smart hustler who quickly graduated to robbing people with his older brother Shabir. His criminal escapades led him into smuggling — initially flipping clothes and household goods and selling them in his Dongri neighborhood. Growing dissatisfaction with these small scores led Ibrahim to steal a shipment of gold smuggled in by the reigning mafioso, Haji Mirza Mastan, Agrawal says.
Mastan, in turn, hired Ibrahim as security for his future gold shipments — a common ploy of bringing the troublemaker into the fold to stamp out the problem. When Shabir was killed by competing gangsters, his brother avenged him. Over a period of 10 years, Ibrahim became the uncrowned king of Bombay’s criminal underworld while Mastan ascended into politics, according to S. Hussain Zaidi in Dongri to Dubai: Six Decades of the Mumbai Mafia.
Due to his influence in the worlds of movies and cricket, India’s two most popular pastimes, and despite his self-imposed exile, Ibrahim maintained a strong presence in India throughout the ’90s. Watching matches and participating in the United Arab Emirates’ Sharjah sheikdom betting syndicates at his leisure, he repeatedly eluded security agencies. “Dawood’s gang members are still financing films in India,” Agrawal says. “They’re not only in cricket gambling, but almost control it nowadays.” These dealings only add to the fugitive’s mystique.
“Ibrahim is a godfather of organized crime in the classic sense,” says Ron Chepesiuk, author of Narcos Inc: The Rise and Fall of the Cali Cartel. “Except few godfathers have been so closely tied to terrorism as Ibrahim.” And no gangster has had a toehold in the entertainment industry of his country — Bollywood, which is larger than Hollywood — as Ibrahim, Chepesiuk says. “Murder, corruption, intimidation … he has terrorized Bollywood in every way.”
Like Al Capone, Ibrahim probably would claim he was just a simple businessman — a local boy made good, with a net worth of almost $7 billion. But the notorious goonda, or thug, has made Forbes’ “Top 10 Deadliest Criminals List” and leads a global mafia ring that deals in drugs, gold and diamonds, contract killings, counterfeit currency, gambling and extortion.
But it was his alleged role in the 1993 Mumbai bombings, more so than his underworld dealings, that catapulted Ibrahim onto the world stage of most wanted criminals. Now forced to rule his criminal empire in exile, the fugitive high on India’s most wanted list is believed to have hidden in both Dubai and Pakistan. The “Don,” as he was dubbed by the media, “doesn’t fit the stereotype embedded in popular culture,” when it comes to gangsters, says Christian Cipollini, author of Murder Inc: Mysteries of the Mob’s Most Deadly Hit Squad.
“[He] certainly presents an alternative personification of a crime kingpin,” Cipollini says. Despite a huge reward, however, nobody has managed to bring Ibrahim to justice — yet. But authorities have been turning up the heat, and Agrawal says Ibrahim is definitely hiding in Pakistan, a claim corroborated by the fugitive’s younger brother following his own arrest. “His Karachi house — Moin Palace, Clifton area — is not a secret anymore,” says Cipollini. Which raises the question: Will the Don of Bombay finally be brought to justice?
- Seth Ferranti Contact Seth Ferranti