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PM has bailed out Mr Q

PM has bailed out Mr Q

Author: A Surya Prakash
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: October 6, 2009
URL: http://dailypioneer.com/207007/PM-has-bailed-out-Mr-Q.html

Those who think that the latest initiative of the Manmohan Singh Government to withdraw the criminal charges against Ottavio Quattrocchi, the Italian businessman who knocked off a commission of $ 7.343 million when we bought field guns for our Army in the mid-1980s, is the last nail in the coffin of the Bofors scandal, are missing the woods for the trees. In reality, this shameful deployment of governmental might to bail out a friend of Ms Sonia Gandhi who walked away with Indian tax-payers' money, could indeed be a nail in the coffin of the justice system in the country.

Though the country has witnessed innumerable scandals since independence, never before has it seen a Government which has worked so relentlessly for six years to ensure that its own investigators do not catch up with a man who stood accused of pocketing commissions in a defence contract. Nor have we had a Government that has worked with such determination and persistence to wreck public confidence in the system of justice.

Lest the falsehoods mouthed by spokespersons of the Congress and some individuals in Government, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, obliterate the truth, we need to remind ourselves of the facts of this case. We purchased field guns for our Army from AB Bofors, a Swedish company, in the mid-1980s when Rajiv Gandhi was Prime Minister. A year after the deal was signed, Swedish Radio reported that AB Bofors had bribed persons in the Indian Government to win the contract and that huge commissions had been paid to middlemen who were fronting for those persons. Rajiv Gandhi dismissed these accusations and got a parliamentary committee packed with his cronies to 'probe' the allegations. The committee sullied the name of Parliament by claiming that no commissions or bribes were paid by AB Bofors.

This conclusion was rubbished by media investigators who produced documents showing payments made by AB Bofors to several Swiss bank accounts. Two of these accounts belonged to Ottavio Quattrocchi and his wife Maria. Rajiv Gandhi was defeated in the Lok Sabha election held in 1989 and VP Singh, who headed a Janata Dal-led coalition Government, took over as Prime Minister. This Government sent out investigators and got clinching evidence of the payments made by AB Bofors. As the investigators made progress, the Quattrocchis took to their heels and India asked Interpol to put out a Red Corner alert.

Interpol laid its hands on evidence which established that the Quattrocchis had moved the money from AB Bofors out of Switzerland and into two accounts in a London bank.

Mr Manmohan Singh's predecessors acted on this evidence and got the British authorities to freeze these two bank accounts.

In order to help this friend of his benefactor, Mr Singh has done the following:

He sent a law officer to London in December, 2005 to inform the British authorities that India had no objection to the de-freezing of these accounts. When this deceitful act came to light, a PIL was moved in the Supreme Court in January 2006 and the court directed the CBI to ensure that the Quattrocchis did not empty the accounts until the reasons for this strange move by the Government became clear. However, by the time the court issued this direction, the Quattrocchis had nearly cleaned out the two accounts.

Next followed another act of deception. Since Interpol's Red Corner notice was still valid, Quattrocchi was detained by the Argentinian authorities on February 6, 2007. The CBI was informed about this on February 8 and, going by its reaction, it appeared as if, more than Quattrocchi, the Government of India was shocked by the alacrity of the Argentinians! The Government's duplicity is best explained by the fact that it withheld this information from the Supreme Court during a hearing on February 13. The CBI, however, announced Quattrocchi's detention on February 23 after it heard that the fugitive had been released on bail.

Why did the Government keep Quattrocchi's arrest in Argentina under wraps for 17 days? Here is a clue: The Prime Minister of Italy, Mr Romano Prodi, was visiting India between February 10 and 15. Also, by a very happy coincidence, Ottavio Quattrocchi's son Massimo was kind enough to come by. He flew out of Delhi on February 22, a day before his father's 'detention' was made public in India.

This announcement was followed by another round of dilly-dallying, until an Argentinian court rapped the CBI on the knuckles for failing to produce valid documents and permitted Quattrocchi to fly back to Italy. He returned to Milan on August 15 and celebrated his independence even as Mr Singh lectured us on democracy and rule of law from the ramparts of the Red Fort on our Independence Day. As if all this was not enough, the Argentinian court directed us to pay Quattrocchi his legal expenses.

The next big favour that Mr Singh's Government did to Quattrocchi was to ask Interpol in April 2009 to withdraw the Red Corner notice that stood against him. Defending this shameful act, Mr Singh declared that the 'Quattrocchi Case' was an "embarrassment" for the Government because the world saw Quattrocchi as some one who was being "harassed" by us.

Bailing out Quattrocchi has been a high priority for Ms Sonia Gandhi and let there be no doubt that Mr Singh has understood the priorities of his boss. In January 2006 he ensured Quattrocchi got his hands on the loot stashed away in a London bank. In February 2007, when Argentina detained Quattrocchi, he ensured the CBI dragged its feet and looked foolish before the courts there. Quattrocchi was allowed to fly back to Italy and freedom. In April 2009, he got Interpol to withdraw the Red Corner notice.

Now, Mr Singh's Government has informed the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate that it wants to withdraw the criminal charges against Quattrocchi because nothing remains of the case. No other Prime Minister has done so much with such diligence to decriminalise a blatantly criminal act. Let us await his next sermon on the rule of law and the justice system. Wah, Prime Minister!

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