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Union Law Minister's gem: I signed file...foreigners are not like us, they want logical conclusion

Union Law Minister's gem: I signed file...foreigners are not like us, they want logical conclusion

Author: Ritu Sarin
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: April 29, 2009
URL: http://www.indianexpress.com/news/union-law-ministers-gem-i-signed-file...foreigners-are-not-like-us-they-want-logical-conclusion/452442/0

Union Law Minister Hans Raj Bhardwaj admitted today that he had, indeed, signed off on the removal of the Red Corner Notice against Bofors-accused Ottavaio Quattrocchi when Attorney General Milon Banerji's opinion was being routed to the CBI.

Speaking to The Indian Express, he called the 19-year-old Bofors investigation a "curse" - he cited the number of accused who died as the case dragged on - and detailed the sequence of events leading to Quattrocchi being taken off the wanted list.

The Italian businessman had been "aggressively" pushing for this ever since he won his extradition case in Buenos Aires in 2007, Bhardwaj said. "Foreigners are not like us. They want to take things to a logical conclusion."

"He challenged continuation of the RCN with the Interpol which sent a notice to the CBI. It was then that the agency sought the opinion of the AG and when I read the opinion, I simply signed the file without putting any comments," the Minister said.

Curiously, Bhardwaj slammed the CBI's handling of the Quattrocchi case and admitted that at several stages, he, along with senior Law Ministry officers, said the agency was on a weak wicket.

Bhardwaj blamed the agency for failing to update the warrant of arrest for Quattrocchi, first obtained in 1997 and revalidated in 1999. "The CBI should have corrected its record with Interpol and kept them updated. But instead they continued with the expired warrant at a leisurely pace," he said.

"When Quattrocchi was detained in Argentina, they ran to us and we advised them to obtain a fresh warrant. Quattrocchi, in the meantime, hired the best possible lawyers and the invalidity of the arrest warrant proved to be one of their strongest legal points...but we had already pointed out to the CBI that their case would be thrown out in Argentina on the basis of this. Even Additional Solicitor General Gopal Subramaniam opined on this. But they still went ahead."

On the CBI's decision not to appeal against the February 4, 2004 judgment of the Delhi High Court quashing charges, Bhardwaj said: "The filing of the SLP was time-barred and the decision was taken on merit. Everyone was of the opinion that this was not a fit case for filing an SLP." When reminded that top CBI officers, including the Director, had been pressing for permission to file the SLP and that the very same decision was used by the Attorney General to justify removal of the RCN, the Minister said, "There is no conflict of interest here. It is very fair." For the first time, the Minister spoke on the circumstances in which the CBI was asked to withdraw its appeal in Argentina after it lost the first round in the case. "Already, the CBI was asked to pay costs which came to millions. If they lost the appeal, there would have been a huge penalty again. Therefore, the advice given to them was justified," he said.

It was Additional Government Counsel OP Verma who had given an opinion on the extradition appeal matter and cited high cost as one of several reasons. As reported in The Indian Express, the Law Minister signed his approval and sent it to the Indian Ambassador in Buenos Aires shortly after which Quattrocchi got his impounded passport back - and walked free.

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