India's premier investigative agency again sought withdrawal of the case against Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi in the Bofors payoffs scam citing lack of evidence, even after a tax tribunal sensationally ruled that illegal commissions were indeed paid in the Rs 15-billion gun deal of 1986.
A Delhi lower court hearing the matter deferred the decision for Thursday after the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and advocate Ajay Agarwal, who is challenging the CBI plea, made their observations.
Agarwal later sought an adjournment saying his mother was ill.
The advocate told the court that the case should be re-looked as the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal had confirmed that Rs 412 million was paid by the Swedish company Bofors to Quattrochi and his associate Win Chadha for felicitating the Howitzer field gun contract.
"The (CBI) application is not bonafide. There is no public interest involved in the CBI application. It should be rejected. Undue haste has been shown," Agarwal told IANS, adding he had pointed out the tribunal's order to the court.
Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Vinod Yadav said the two issues were "different" since the tribunal order was about tax evasion while his court was hearing criminal proceedings against the accused.
Agarwal said he also told the court that Law Minister M Veerapa Moily had said Monday that the government would re-examine the issue in the light of the tribunal order. "I said the CBI is unduly hurrying to close the case."
The judge then asked Additional Solicitor General PP Malhotra, appearing for the CBI, whether it had received any fresh missive from the government in the light of the tax tribunal's order.
The CBI counsel said there was no word from the government and, accordingly, wanted to pursue with the withdrawal of the case against Quattrocchi after taking into account all aspects.
The agency had in 1999 charged former defence secretary SK Bhatnagar, Quattrocchi, Chadha, former Bofors chief Martin Ardbo and the company in connection with the case.
Bhatnagar, Ardbo and Chadha are dead. Quattrocchi - who has never appeared before any court in India - is the only surviving accused.
The agency had failed on two occasions to get Quattrocchi extradited -- first from Malaysia in 2003 and then from Argentina in 2007 -- after which it said there was no real purpose in going ahead with the case.
The matter took a fresh twist Monday after a tax tribunal ruled that Quattrocchi and his partner Win Chadha did get commission of over Rs 412 million in the gun deal.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) demanded that the "fraud" and "cover up" be probed by a special investigation team, even as Congress spokesman Abhishek Manu Singhvi said he was not going to be "hurried" into reacting.
Law Minister Moily lashed out at the BJP for tying to link Quattorcchi to the Congress or its leaders.
"His (Quattrocchi's) direct linkage to Congress or its leader is totally baseless," he told reporters in Bangalore.
The tribunal, confirming that kickbacks were indeed paid in the gun deal, ruled in an order made available Monday that the accused were liable to pay taxes on such income.
The ruling by Judicial Member RP Tolani and Accountant Member RC Sharma of the tribunal came on a tax liability slapped on Win Chadha's son Hersh, named as legal heir of the co-accused. The tribunal dismissed the appeal by the son.