Ottavio Quattrocchi is no longer in detention in Argentina. He was released on bail on February 23 — the same day the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) said he had been held there.
The news of the release of the Italian businessman wanted by India for over a decade for his alleged role in the Bofors payoff case was confirmed by senior CBI officers on Monday.
CBI director Vijay Shanker said the agency had been informed about Quattrocchi's bail proceedings on February 16 by Argentina's foreign office.
Senior officers were, however, unable to explain why it took them four days to find out about Quattrocchi's release when it had taken less than a day to know of his detention. The CBI is connected to the rest of the Interpol members though a hotline.
"A message was received at 7.43 pm from Interpol Buenos Aires that Quattrocchi has been released on bail…. However, he has been prohibited from leaving Argentina," a CBI statement said. A senior agency official said Quattrocchi's passport was with the Argentine authorities.
"The Interpol message also says that the extradition process is ongoing, awaiting extradition request through the diplomatic channel," the CBI statement said.
The CBI director said this was not a setback for India. "His release would have no impact whatsoever on the extradition proceedings and this is no setback for us," Shanker said. A CBI team will reach Argentina, with which India has no extradition treaty, by March 2.
The government is ready with documents it requires to bring Quattrocchi to India. The papers, given the go-ahead at a meeting External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee held with senior colleagues on Monday, will be sent along with the CBI team when it leaves for Buenos Aires on Wednesday.
The government will make a statement in Parliament on the issue on Tuesday.
MEA officials familiar with the case said the absence of an extradition treaty with a country does not necessarily mar India's chances of bringing a fugitive back, provided the crime is in conformity with the local laws of that country.
The proceedings could be smoother than what they were in Malaysia, officials said, as Argentina is keen to improve relations with India and also amend its image as a haven for fugitives. In 2003, India failed to get Quattrochhi from Malaysia where he had been detained.