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PM's concert in 'Q' major

PM's concert in 'Q' major

Author: A Surya Prakash
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: May 5, 2009
URL: http://dailypioneer.com/173969/PM's-concert-in-'Q'-major.html

As a grand finale to its subservient five years in office and as a tribute to its benefactor and mentor, the Manmohan Orchestra is now playing 'Concerto Quattrocchi' at the Delhi Opera. Members of this orchestra - who constitute the biggest ensemble of Italy-trained political musicians - are playing their hearts out to impress the presiding deity at 10, Janpath. Beginning with the conductor, everyone is hoping for renewal of their contracts after May 16, smug in the belief that the people of India will reward them for their unstinted sycophancy.

The Prime Minister, Mr Manmohan Singh, has surely established himself as a conductor par excellence in the eyes of his benefactor by defending the withdrawal of the 'Red Corner Notice' against Ottavio Quattrocchi. He has declared that the Quattrocchi case is an "embarrassment" for the Government because the world sees this Italian fugitive and friend of Mr Sonia Gandhi as someone who is being "harassed" by us.

Many others have chipped in to please their political boss. Among them, the Law Minister, Mr HR Bhardwaj, the party's Spokesperson, Mr Abhishek Manu Singhvi, who says those who question the Government's decision are "flogging a dead horse", and finally, Mr Shashi Tharoor, the new kid on the political block. He describes Quattrocchi as a "poor gentleman". Many of Mr Tharoor's admirers are shocked by the speed and eagerness with which he has contributed to 'Concerto Quattrocchi'.

This concert must surely be music to the ears of Ms Gandhi but Mr Singh and his colleagues are oblivious of the fact that this is cacophonous to those who value national security and rule of law. Therefore, lest Mr Singh and his colleagues get away with this cacophony, it would be in order to put the record straight and place the facts about Bofors and Quattrocchi before the people.

The Bofors bribery scandal is a loot-and-scoot saga dating back to the 1980s. The story began with the Rajiv Gandhi Government's decision in April, 1984 to buy 155 mm guns for the Army. Sofma of France, AB Bofors of Sweden and Voest Alpine of Austria were the main contenders for the contract. The Army held many field trials and chose Sofma. However, for inexplicable reasons, Bofors forged ahead in the final stages of evaluation and the contract for purchase of field guns from this company was signed on March 24, 1986.

The payoffs scandal broke when Swedish Radio revealed that Bofors had paid bribes to clinch the $ 1.3 billion contract. Rajiv Gandhi tried desperately to quell the rumours, but the people did not believe him because the media investigations contradicted his claims. Second, many of the actions of his Government were not sanguine. For example, he agreed to a Joint Parliamentary Committee inquiry into the deal, but packed the committee with cronies and secured a 'report' which said no commissions or bribes had been paid.

The conclusions of the JPC were not worth the paper they were printed on because it went about its task as if its remit was to do a whitewash. Its conclusions turned out to be bogus when newspapers produced evidence which showed Bofors had made payments to several accounts of several individuals in Swiss banks in connection with the deal. Among media houses, the Hindu and the Indian Express were in the vanguard of investigations. The Hindu produced evidence that demolished Rajiv Gandhi's claims that no commissions or bribes were paid. It showed that not only was Quattrocchi one of the beneficiaries but also a key player.

Negotiations with the three main contenders for the contract and the field trials were on since April, 1984. Suddenly, in November, 1985 Bofors entered into a strange contract with a company called AE Services. This contract guaranteed AE Services three per cent commission if the contract was concluded before March 31, 1986. Strangely, the contract with Bofors was signed on March 24, 1986 - a week before the expiry of the deadline stipulated in the Bofors-AE Services deal.

Two months later, India paid Bofors 20 per cent of the contractual value and Bofors promptly transferred $ 7.343 million (equivalent of three per cent of the amount paid by India) to the AE Services account in Nordfinanz Bank, Zurich. Investigators following the money trail found that this sum was subsequently transferred by AE Services to the Swiss bank account operated by Maria and Ottavio Quattrocchi in the name of 'Colbar Investments'.

On August 6, 1987, when Parliament resolved to inquire into the payoffs, the Quattrocchis transferred this money to yet another bank account operated by them. Thereafter, the money was transferred to accounts in the UK. The NDA Government headed by Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee got the British Government to freeze these accounts.

But the biggest giveaway was the most extraordinary move ever made in an international deal. After the scandal came to light, AE Services wrote a letter to Bofors and voluntarily surrendered the three per cent commission that was due to it on the remaining payments (80 per cent of the contract value) to be made by India. Have you ever heard of a company that voluntarily surrenders millions of dollars which are due to it? Once the Indian investigators laid their hands on bank documents, the Quattrocchis took to their heels. Thereafter, Interpol put out a 'Red Corner Notice' for Quattrocchi.

Despite all this evidence, Mr Singh's Government unlocked Quattrocchi's UK accounts and enabled him to lay his hands on this ill-gotten wealth. Thereafter, it deliberately goofed up the extradition process when he was arrested in Argentina and now, just before it demits office, it has got Interpol to withdraw the 'Red Corner Notice'.

After having delivered all this to his Italian-born boss, Mr Singh says the Quattrocchi case is an "embarrassment" for his Government because the world sees us as "harassing" this Italian. The Law Minister and the Congress spokespersons play along. Finally, incredulous as it may seem, the litterateur-diplomat-turned-Congress votary describes Quattrocchi as "a poor gentleman". Tch, tch. Such poverty of thought on entering politics!

If we value our hard-earned freedom and rule of law, if we wish to end this tradition of loot-and-scoot, if we do not want foreigners to inveigle themselves into our system and corrupt it, we must shut down this orchestra. We must also hope that the new Government will have the political will and commitment to get to the root of the scandal and officially declare who Quattrocchi was fronting for.

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