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A Keystone Kop-out

Povero, Povero Ottavio. By which I don?t, of course, mean that Signor Quattrocchi is literally a poor Italian, left all these years to darn his own Bresciani socks.

india Updated: Jan 21, 2006 00:50 IST

Povero, Povero Ottavio. By which I don’t, of course, mean that Signor Quattrocchi is literally a poor Italian, left all these years to darn his own Bresciani socks. Being once again in the possession of the Rs 21 crore that he had earned, and was barred from for so many years despite no real connection being found between this pile of cash and the ‘Bofors stash’, I don’t think he could be in anyway hard up for money any- more. But poor, poor Ottavio must be literally in pain as he is unable to stop laughing at the wonderfully scripted farce being played out in New Delhi.

So who played Santa to Quattrocchi a few weeks after Christmas by requesting that the British Crown Prosecution Services (CPS) defreeze (whatever was wrong with the verb, ‘unfreeze’?) his two frozen accounts in London? Law Minister H.R. Bhardwaj, it seems, who through the Additional Solicitor General, B. Dutta, had told the CPS that there was no case against Quattrocchi and ‘if you could please...’

But then, Bhardwaj couldn’t be the real benefactor. The credit should go to the government he’s a minister in. But the government says it knows nothing about the 'defreeze' business, and who would you rather believe — the prime minister or the law minister? Then could it be the Congress? Nope, says the Congress. It was the CBI who cleared the decks. Ah, so it was the CBI that Quattrocchi needs to send a nice little ‘Grazie’ card.

But hang on, isn’t the CBI still on the lookout for the Italian ‘absconder’? Um, I guess so, if you believe, as I do, what you see on the CBI website. Couched comfortably in the Interpol Red Corner Notice list between Nrusinhkumar Lalgiri Goswami (Notice Control No.: A-41-1-2004, charged of cheating, fraudulent conversion and passport forgery) and Palaniappan Rajarathinam (Notice Control No.: A-288-42002, charged of breach of trust, cheating and dishonesty involving delivery of property) lies the name Ottavio Quattrocchi (Notice Control No.: A-44-2-1997).

Hmm, the charges against him issued by the CBI still seem to be there — never mind what the CPS may have been told over a cuppa. “[Ottavio] and his wife namely Maria were involved in fraud and bribery committed in India between 1982 and 1987. A percentage of the money paid by the Indian government was illegally transferred by the ‘AB Bofors’ company to bank accounts in Switzerland to the benefit of certain Indian public servants and their nominees,” explains the CBI website.

So is the CBI — whose stirring motto is ‘Industry, Impartiality and Integrity’ — being lazy, partial and deceitful in still maintaining that Quattrocchi isn’t exactly cleared of the charges against him? The bureau suffered a brief moment of brain-freeze, followed by the natural reaction common to all fall guys who haven’t officially being given the tag of ‘fall guys’ of being aghast at the government whistling in the air and pointing its finger at the CBI.

“Of course, it was they who approached the CPS,” said the government.

“Duh, no, we weren’t,” was the CBI’s slip of the tongue.

Sanity, of course, prevailed as the CBI conducted a pirouette that would have left Margot Fonteyn in her Swan Lake costume gawking.

“Of course, we had approached the CPS requesting that Quattrocchi’s accounts be defreezed,” was the gist of what CBI Joint Director A. Majumdar had to say — a day after the same man had said that he was not aware of the British High Court order defreezing the accounts just a few days before.

And before one can say ‘Fortezza domitrice della Fortuna’ — [One must] domesticate Fortune by force — there’s a bit of news that makes both the government and the CBI look very suspiciously like — now what’s the word? Ah, yes! — liars. It seems that an e-mail from the CPS, sent to the CBI and the Additional Solicitor-General, stated that the Ministry of Law, along with the CBI, had sought permission to defreeze Quattrochhi’s London accounts.

For those shocked out of their wits to find an institution of the State conduct their affairs in accordance to the government of the day, it’s time to sit back, relax and come to terms with the sad, sad fact that the stork doesn’t bring babies into this world. Joginder Singh mumbled as much in a television studio when asked whether the CBI ‘bends’ to government ‘requests’. “It happens,” was his blasé response.

The question — if there is any after such ‘wag the dog’ displays — is not whether Quattrocchi deserves to pocket a sum of money that he may have got from some unsavoury deal involving a field gun. (That, ho-hum, is a query whose ‘chillingness quotient’ pales when compared to other ‘lost’ queries like whether ‘poor, old’ Warren Anderson, the Union Carbide MD and once-upon-a-time fugitive from the CBI (and now from the Government of India) can get away with mass murder. But enough of minor digressions.) Rather, the question is: why does the CBI need to exist?

The question, as you might have guessed, becomes pitifully rhetorical the moment you realise that Indian governments need the CBI — which helpfully functions under the administrative authority of the Department of Personnel and Training — from time to time so that the governments of the day can whistle (Saare jahan se achchha always being a favourite tune) and nonchalantly point the finger of ‘blame’ at the bureau. The CBI, of course, plays its sterling role by running after false trails — sometimes trails that it has tirelessly furrowed itself — asking foreign governments to extradite people when extradition is not on the cards, and, of course, to put so much faith in a government’s ability to help and deliver the goods that it makes you want to cry. (In Quattrocchi’s case, the Italian government should, of course, chloroform and gag him and parcel him to the CBI’s doorstep.)

Alas, the money that was parked in Quattrocchi’s London accounts that the Supreme Court now wants to stay frozen (re-frozen? un-defrozen?) was withdrawn the very day after the CPS defreezed them. The CBI, of course, thought that in all his benediction, Quattrocchi would not touch the money until his name was cleared. Being human, Quattrochhi cleaned out the money from his accounts a day after they were defreezed.

In the end, the latest remix of Bofors isn’t about Bofors at all. It is about the story of a government that really isn’t the ruling party that really never tells an institution of the State like the CBI what to do and what not to. Governments usually function according to the good cop-bad cop principle. Vajpayee was the good cop; Advani the bad cop, etc. But when a government has a good cop and a magnificent cop running the show, who’s going to take the flak?

The Keystone Kops, of course.

First Published: Jan 21, 2006 00:50 IST