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No appeal filed so set Q free, says AG, doesn't mention he scuttled appeal

No appeal filed so set Q free, says AG, doesn't mention he scuttled appeal

Author: Ritu Sarin & Amitav Ranjan
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: May 29, 2009
URL: No appeal filed so set Q free, says AG, doesn't mention he scuttled appeal

To justify withdrawing the Red Corner Notice against Bofors-accused Ottavio Quattrocchi, as first reported in The Indian Express today, both the Law Ministry and the Central Bureau of Investigation said they went by "advice from the highest legal quarters."

That's a reference to Attorney General Milon Banerji who, on October 24 last year, sent a four-page opinion pointing out that the CBI did not challenge the February 2004 order of the High Court quashing all charges under the Prevention of Corruption Act in the Bofors case. And argued: "Since no Special Leave Petition was filed on this ground...the Red Corner Notice is invalid."

What Banerji did not mention and what's buried in confidential files accessed by The Indian Express is a telling fact: it was Attorney General Milon Banerji himself who, barely two months after the Congress-led Manmohan Singh Government came to power, overruled CBI investigators and directed the agency not to file the SLP against the High Court order.

This is what Banerji signed on file on July 5, 2004: "I have perused the papers, in particular, the careful summary prepared by Shri R L Meena, Law Secretary. I agree with the view of the Law Secretary that this is not a fit case for filing a Special Leave Petition."

The Government also cited the views of O P Verma, Deputy Legal Advisor, who also argued against filing of the SLP. File notings show that CBI's Joint Director and Additional Director both made identical comments: "We perhaps have no option other than to allow the matter to rest."

Once the Law Ministry (read the Government) had ruled, the then CBI Director U S Misra fell in line. "In view of the opinion of the Law Department," he said, "there is no merit in the case to file SLP in the Supreme Court against the order of High Court."

The way in which the 2004 High Court order remained unchallenged is, perhaps, the most brazen instance of the CBI immediately changing its line of investigation in the Bofors case with regime change at the Centre.

Records obtained by The Indian Express show that before the UPA came to power, the CBI's key investigators in the case (between February-April 2004) had recommended filing the SLP. These included N Natrajan, Chief Public Prosecutor in the case who prepared a 12-page opinion for an appeal; and Deputy Legal Advisor U R Prasad.

On April 24, 2004, barely three weeks before the UPA came to power, CBI's Director of Prosecution S K Sharma stated: "Both these counsel have recommended to go in for SLP against the order of the Delhi High Court. We may act accordingly and send a proposal to the Cabinet Secretariat for instructin g the Central Agency Section to file the SLP in Supreme Court."

This is the same Sharma who has now argued for withdrawing the Red Corner Notice under the UPA Government.

The 28-page draft SLP, in fact, is with The Indian Express. Questioned on this sudden turnaround after their Government came to power, Law Minister H R Bhardwaj today said if a draft SLP existed, it was not forwarded to the Law Ministry.

"It must have been circulated among junior CBI officers," he said. Asked what he made of the AG's opinion then and his opinion now, he said: "There is no conflict of interest."

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