The coming weeks will hopefully clear the confusion as to why the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) did not appeal in Argentina’s top court to keep Bofors accused Ottavio Quattrocchi under further detention. Mr Quattrocchi has been detained since February 2007 on the basis of an Interpol Red Corner Notice pending against him since 1997. The Argentine courts had earlier rejected an extradition request from the CBI in June this year. The Italian businessman is now back home in Italy. He is alleged to be the middleman in the Rs 64 crore Bofors gun scandal in which former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was allegedly implicated.
The details of the saga that began 21 years ago are now hazy in the minds of most people. But this saga has been a convenient political tool that has been raised again and again to settle scores. Irrespective of the political hues, CBI investigations must be made time-bound because there is an enormous amount of taxpayers’ money involved. In the Bofors case, the Rs 250 crore spent on the largely futile effort to prosecute Mr Quattrocchi with CBI officials haring around the world in pursuit of both him and evidence to link him to the case is substantially more than the kickback estimated at Rs 64 crore. In 2005, we were led to believe that the moment of reckoning had arrived when his accounts were frozen in London, only to be unfrozen again after it was declared by the law ministry, at the behest of the CBI, that there was nothing to link the money to the crime. Of course, now the Opposition will raise the issue of political influence on the CBI. But it can be asked what was achieved to bring us closer to the truth during the tenure of the last government.
Irrespective of the outcome of the Bofors case, what is unmistakable is that the CBI has not covered itself in glory either in this or several other high-profile cases. There is no doubt that the CBI is stretched. It has 6,000 cases pending before it. But its track record, whether in the cases of music director Nadeem, Shibu Soren and Lalu Prasad Yadav, to name just a few, has been unsatisfactory. This is worrying because the CBI is the apex investigative body. Given the political sensitivity of the Bofors case, we can be sure that this is not the end of it. The case could be revived. The best outcome we can hope for in such an event is that the public will finally get to the truth and lay this ghost to rest.