The government on Tuesday attempted to distance itself from the Central Bureau of Investigation’s (CBI) decision to drop the name of Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi, accused of having received kickbacks in the Bofors bribery case, from its list of wanted fugitives.
The CBI’s decision in October 2008 had led Interpol, the international organisation facilitating police cooperation around the world, to withdraw its 10-year-old red-corner notice — used to alert countries about an individual against whom an arrest warrant is pending — against Quattrocchi.
The decision has been challenged in the Supreme Court and is likely to come up for an urgent hearing on Wednesday.
The exposure gave new life to the two-decade-old Bofors scandal, and kicked off a political storm in the midst of elections. It provided the opposition with unexpected ammunition to attack the Congress-led UPA government for the “misuse of the CBI”.
A defensive government quickly went into damage-control mode. “The government has absolutely no role in the entire matter. It is a politically motivated and an absurd allegation,” said law minister H.R. Bhardwaj.
Quattrocchi had appealed in the Interpol Commission, which deals with red-corner notices. The minister said a response was sought from the CBI on the basis of the appeal.
“The Interpol wanted to know from the CBI how it could justify a red-corner notice against an individual for a long time, since it is normally issued for a period of five years,” Bhardwaj said.
“When the notice was about to expire, the CBI sought opinion from the attorney general in October who, having gone into the matter, opined that it was not a sustainable order because there was no warrant against him.”
Quattrocchi had figured as an alleged middleman in the Bofors case investigations, one of the longest and the costliest in India’s legal history.
The CBI had charged him with having received Rs 200 crore for finalising the deal between the Indian government and the Swedish gun company.
Successive governments failed in their attempts to bring Quattrocchi to India for trial. In 2003, the BJP-led NDA government’s attempts to extradite him were rejected by three courts in Malaysia. In 2007, an Argentinian court rejected the CBI’s application for sending Quattrocchi to India.
This is the second instance of Quattrochi becoming an issue on the UPA government’s watch. In 2005, the law ministry faced flak for its decision to allow the defreezing of Quattrocchi’s bank accounts in London. An estimated Rs 21 crore was allowed to be handed over to him, when the CBI was still investigating the money trail.