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Accounts must stay frozen: SC

THE SUPREME Court on Monday directed the Union government and the CBI to take steps to ensure that status quo was maintained vis-a-vis the two London bank accounts of Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi, a key accused in the Bofors case.

india Updated: Jan 17, 2006 12:24 IST

PM says action on issue taken by CBI, Law office

THE SUPREME Court on Monday directed the Union government and the CBI to take steps to ensure that status quo was maintained vis-à-vis the two London bank accounts of Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi, a key accused in the Bofors case.

"Respondents to take necessary steps for maintenance of status quo so that defreezing of accounts does not take place, if it has already taken place, money is not withdrawn from the accounts," a bench, presided by Chief Justice Y.K. Sabharwal, said in its short order.

This came even as Quattrocchi said in Milan that the UK authorities had no option but to defreeze his bank accounts as the CBI had no evidence to link the accounts with the case.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, rejecting the Opposition's charge of interference in the matter, said the action related to the defreezing of Quattrocchi's accounts was taken by the CBI. The PM said in Guwahati: "Action relating to both freezing and unfreezing of these accounts were taken at the level of the CBI in consultation with law officials…"

Earlier in the day, hearing the petition seeking the court's intervention to stop the transfer of Rs 26 crore lying in these accounts in public interest, the SC directed the petitioner Ajay Aggarwal to delete from the list of parties the names of Law Minister H.R. Bhardwaj and Additional Solicitor General B. Datta.

Dutta purportedly carried an authorisation letter to the Crown Prosecution Service clearing the defreezing of the accounts.
"…They have been unnecessarily added as parties. If at all the questions raised in the petition are to be answered, the Union and the CBI are here," the bench said. The court also issued notices to the Centre and the CBI asking them to explain their stand by January 23.

The SC sought to know from the CBI and the Union government whether they had sought defreezing of these accounts and if so, whether the CBI had approached the Indian trial court dealing with the matter.

The CBI said though it was officially yet to hear about the SC directive, it has taken steps to inform the Crown Prosecution Service of the development. Joint director A. Majumdar said he was not aware of the British High Court order defreezing Quatrocchi’s accounts or whether money in these accounts had been withdrawn

On the issue of Additional Solicitor General B. Datta's visit to London, Majumdar said: "Neither the DoPT nor the Law Ministry has anything to do with it. It was a decision of the CBI to send a senior law official to London as the Crown Prosecution Service had certain doubts about legal points. Since Dutta has dealt with the case at various stages, we asked the Law Ministry to depute him."

Majumdar declined to comment on whether the ASG had exceeded the brief he had been given before being sent to London. He said he could not comment on it till he received a comprehensive report from London on what exactly had been said in the court there.

In Milan, Quattrocchi said there was no proof linking him to the Bofors payoffs even after three years of investigation but expressed his willingness to be questioned by the CBI in Italy. "The CBI questioned others named in the case such as the Hindujas and Win Chadha outside India. I am willing to be subjected to similar questioning," PTI quoted Quattrocchi as saying.

The CBI says it will pursue his extradition, but till late on Monday there was no such request from it to the Foreign Office. India has an "extradition arrangement" with Italy, but not a formal treaty.

First Published: Jan 17, 2006 12:24 IST