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'Congress, Sonia want Q's extradition'

In an interview to a news channel Digvijay also rubbished reports of Gandhi's children having met Q's son.

india Updated: Mar 10, 2007 16:12 IST

There is "no doubt about it" that the Congress party and its chief Sonia Gandhi want the extradition to India of Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi who is believed to be the conduit in the Bofors payoff scam, said party general secretary Digvijay Singh.

Interviewed by Karan Thapar on CNN-IBN's Devil's Advocate programme, Singh also dismissed as "rubbish" reports that Gandhi's children Priyanka and Rahul had met the businessman's son Massimo during his visit here soon after his father was arrested in Argentina last month on an Interpol alert.

"Yes," Singh asserted twice when asked whether the Congress and Gandhi wanted Quattrocchi's extradition from Argentina, where he is now out on bail.

"No doubt about it?" Thapar asked at the conclusion of the interview, to be telecast at 8.30 pm on Sunday.

"No doubt about it," Singh, a former Madhya Pradesh chief minister, replied.

"It is in the interest of this country, the CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation), the Congress and everyone that we successfully bring Quattrocchi back," Singh maintained.

"Rubbish", Singh retorted when Thapar asked him about the supposed meeting of the Gandhi siblings and Quattrocchi junior.

"How do you know?" Thapar questioned.

"It is rubbish."

"How do you know?"

"It is rubbish. It is speculative, totally speculative."

Singh replied in the negative when asked whether he had made enquiries about the meeting.

"There is no need to check it because it is rubbish," he replied.

Singh went on the defensive when specifically asked whether the meeting had taken place at a party organised by Biju Janata Dal (BJD) Rajya Sabha member Jay Panda.

"This is speculation that some people have come out with but I don't agree."

He was again on the back foot when Thapar suggested the meeting might have taken place but that Singh did not know about it.

"The point I am making is that the government has never interfered with the investigation of the CBI. As for as Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi are concerned, they have nothing to do with it," Singh contended.

Asked whether there had been any contact, direct or indirect, between Sonia Gandhi and Quattrocchi's son, Singh stated: "How can I come out with a statement. It's totally speculative and rubbish."

Quattrocchi was arrested in Argentina on February 6 but was released on February 23, the day it became known in India that he had been held. The CBI has filed a request in an Argentine court for his extradition. India and Argentina do not have an extradition treaty.

The delay in announcing Quattrocchi's arrest has raised a storm in Parliament with the opposition charging that the government was not keen on his being brought back to India.

Quattrocchi, who was the Indian representative of Italian conglomerate Snamprogeti and is known to be close to the Gandhi family, has been on the run for almost a decade since an Interpol alert was issued against him.

He is believed to be the recipient of the Rs 640 million Swedish arms manufacturer Bofors allegedly paid as bribes to secure an Indian Army order for 400 artillery guns.

The gun deal was negotiated in the mid-1980s when Sonia Gandhi's husband Rajiv Gandhi was the prime minister. The Supreme Court has absolved all those charged in the scam.

Singh also did not agree that the government's handling of Quattrocchi's arrest had damaged the Congress or its president.

"Certainly not, the government did not bungle at all," he retorted.

Singh brushed aside suggestions that the government had soft-pedalled on the issue by keeping the Italian businessman's arrest under wraps for 17 days as he was potentially embarrassing for the Congress and Gandhi.

"Certainly not," Singh replied. The government did not sit over it. It responded immediately to the demand of the Argentine government. It made the issue public...

Thapar interjected as this stage to point out that the government hadn't announced the arrest but that the information had been leaked.

"It came with specific details, that it was responding to the Argentine government," Singh maintained, adding: "The media and the opposition had hyped the issue."

"My government responded the minute it came to know, immediately after the information was made available.

"So why is the Left (that supports the government from outside) upset?" Thapar asked

"I would not comment on the remarks of my colleagues in the Left. The CBI did not wait for an hour. It responded immediately," he stated.

Singh was also asked why news of Quattrocchi's arrest had been withheld from the Supreme Court.

"The government and the CBI did not delay the matter. They responded immediately," Singh insisted.