Indian authorities will be able to question David Coleman Headley, accused in the 2008 Mumbai attacks and facing 12 terror charges in a Chicago court, but within the United States, only, as per a plea agreement that he struck with the court on Thursday.
As per the agreement, based on a change of Headley's plea from not guilty to guilty on all charges, he is currently facing life imprisonment, instead of the death penalty, and is also mandated to continuously cooperate with authorities in providing information for terror investigations.
In a conversation with The Hindu, shortly after the agreement was struck, his attorney, John Theis, said that Headley had provided important information to the authorities, which had already “helped save lives.” He said that while he had no information from law enforcement agencies about what they did with any information provided by Headley, “My understanding is that the United States government has shared information with the Indian government on a regular basis.”
The 35-page plea agreement clearly leaves room for Indian authorities to have access to Headley in the context of terror-related investigations in the future. Mr. Theis, however, emphasised that would have to be on U.S. soil as per the agreement.
The relevant section reads: “Defendant further agrees that, when directed by the United States Attorney's Office, he will fully and truthfully testify in any foreign judicial proceedings held in the United States by way of deposition, videoconferencing or letters rogatory.”
Extradition ruled out
The agreement effectively rules out the possibility of extradition, stating that pursuant to the U.S.'s extradition treaties with India, Denmark and Pakistan, the “defendant shall not be extradited to the Republic of India, the Kingdom of Denmark, or the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, respectively, for any offences for which he has been convicted in accordance with this plea.”
In terms of the possible future course of Headley's sentencing, Mr. Theis said that as per his plea agreement he might be eligible for “downward departure” which is essentially a lighter sentence than life imprisonment, again conditional upon his continued cooperation.
He was, however, unable to confirm how many years in prison Headley might face in such circumstances, saying that that would be pure “speculation.”
Headley has “agreed not to be sentenced until the case is over,” Mr. Theis said, confirming that sentencing would depend on the arrest and trial of co-defendants, including Tahawwur Rana, Illyas Kashmiri and Abdur Rehman Hashim Syed.
Mr. Theis said at this point it was unclear how long that might take or if indeed they would all be brought before the U.S. justice system. In any case, Headley would likely remain in custody until such time, Mr. Theis added.