Bofors payoffs: Twists and turns in case against Quattrocchi
The over two-decade old case against Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi, the lone surviving accused in the Bofors payoffs scam, has taken tortuous twists and turns since he was named in a 1999 CBI chargesheet as the conduit for the alleged bribe.
Seventy-year-old Quattrocchi has never appeared before any court in India to face trial in connection with the Rs 64 crore Bofors pay offs that rocked the country.
He was known to be close to the family of late Rajiv Gandhi who was prime minister in 1987 when the bribery scandal in connection with the Rs 1,437 crore deal between the Indian government and Swedish arms company AB Bofor for supply of 410 155 mm howitzer field guns broke. The deal was signed on March 24, 1986.
The scandal became an unprecedented case of corruption and contributed to the defeat of Rajiv Gandhi's Congress party in the general elections in November 1989.
The nearest the Central Bureau of Investigation came to him was in February 2007 when Quattrocchi was detained in Argentina on the basis of an Interpol warrant.
But the CBI took time in translating documents that were to be presented in the designated court there and also put up a half-hearted effort towards his extradition. It finally lost the case for his extradition four months later.
The 12-year Interpol Red Corner Notice, or lookout notice, against Quattrocchi, who has till date evaded interrogation, was taken off from the "wanted" section of the agency's website reportedly on the legal advice of Attorney General Milon Banerjee in 2010.
Quattrocchi was accused by the CBI of receiving millions of dollars in commissions for helping to fix the gun deal.
News about the kickbacks broke on April 16, 1987 when Swedish Radio claimed Bofors paid kickbacks to top Indian politicians and key defence officials to secure the deal.
Four days later, the then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi assures the Lok Sabha that no middleman was involved and no kickbacks were paid.
A Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) was however set up on August 6, 1987 under B Shankaranand to probe allegations of kickbacks. The JPC report was presented to Parliament on July 18, 1989.
CBI registered a complaint in the payoffs case on January 22, 1990.
Quattrocchi, who represented Italian fertiliser firm Snam Progetti for years, left India on July 29, 1993 apparently to avoid any arrest.
CBI set up a special investigation team for the case on January 30, 1997 and questioned former army chief Gen Krishnaswamy Sundarji ten days later.
CBI filed the first chargesheet on October 22, 1999 naming Win Chadha, Quattrocchi, former Indian defence secretary S K Bhatnagar, former Bofors chief Martin Ardbo and Bofors company. Rajiv Gandhi's name figures as "an accused not sent for trial" -- as he was assassinated in 1991.
Trial court issued arrest warrants against Quattrocchi, while summoning other four accused on Nov 7, 1999. Five weeks later, CBI team goes to Malaysia to seek extradition of Quattrocchi but fails.
Quattrocchi approached Supreme Court in early 2000 to quash arrest warrant against him. The court however asked him to appear before the CBI for interrogation while protecting him from being arrested. Quattrocchi refused to accept the order.
He was arrested in Malaysia on December 20, 2000 and gets bail but is asked to stay in the country. A Malaysian court denied India's request for Quattrocchi's extradition on December 2, 2002.
Britain froze Quattrocchi's bank accounts on July 28, 2003 and six months later Swiss authorities agreed to consider CBI request to provide his bank details.
On December 31, 2005, CBI told Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), London, that it has not been able to link the money in two accounts of Quattrocchi with Bofors kickbacks.
A week later, two accounts of Quattrocchi in London banks containing 3 million euros and $1 million are defreezed after the then additional solicitor general B Dutta met CPS lawyers.
Quattrocchi was detained in Argentina Feb 6, 2007 on an Interpol lookout notice. A week later, CBI wrote to ministry of external affairs and told Interpol that documentation are being prepared for extradition proceedings in Argentina.
A fresh arrest warrant was issued Feb 24, 2007 against Quattrocchi after it was obtained from Delhi court. He was released on bail two days later with the condition that he does not leave Argentina.
Pursuing the case, a two-member CBI team left for Argentina on February 28 and an Argentinean judge examined CBI application seeking Quattrocchi's extradition.
Hearing of extradition plea began in Argentina on March 23 and on June 8 a Court in El Dorado rejected extradition request.
A Red Corner Notice against Quattrocchi was withdrawn on November 25, 2008. CBI sought two weeks' time from trial court on September 8, 2009 to explore options against the Italian.
On September 29, Government told Supreme Court about decision to withdraw case against Quattrocchi.
A Delhi court on December 14, 2010 reserved order till January 4, 2011 on a plea of CBI seeking to drop criminal proceedings against Quattrocchi.
On January three, 2011, An Income Tax tribunal ruled that commission in violation of Indian laws was indeed paid to Quattrochi and Chadha in the gun deal that cost the national exchequer Rs 412.4 million some 23 years ago.