Bailing out `Q' once again
The conspiracy to let Ottavio Quattrocchi off the hook has assumed the dimensions of a Machiavellian farce. The reasoning by an Argentinian court for rejecting the Central Bureau of Investigation's plea to have him extradited strongly points to yet another disingenuous plot to shield the controversial Italian businessman from the law. The court's explanation for the rejection — that the CBI's papers were not in order and that the very basis for seeking his arrest was legally flawed — suggests that the Congress-led Government was hardly serious in bringing Mr. Quattrocchi to India to face trial in the Bofors case. The Argentinian judge held that the CBI's extradition plea was flawed on at least two major counts. The agency has failed to furnish a valid arrest warrant, which should have been issued following the 2004 and 2005 Delhi High Court judgments in the Bofors case. The submitted warrant, issued about a fortnight after Mr. Quattrocchi was detained in Argentina earlier this year, did not spell out the reasons for arresting him as required by Argentinian law. It is one thing if the extradition plea were to be rejected even after the CBI put its best case forward. It is quite another to have it turned down because of a suspiciously shoddy and technically flawed plea. The embarrassment to the prosecution has only been compounded by the court's order that the CBI pay Mr. Quattrocchi's legal costs.
The manner in which the extradition trial was handled is in keeping with the Centre's yielding, if not collusive, attitude towards Mr. Quattrocchi, a key accused in the Bofors case and a close friend of the Nehru-Gandhi family when the Rs.1437 crore howitzer contract was concluded in 1986. In 1993, the Congress government allowed the Italian businessman to flee the country, an unforgivable lapse that resulted in a huge setback to the Bofors case. Last year, the Centre brazenly facilitated lifting the freeze on two of Mr. Quattrocchi's London bank accounts, by suggesting there was no evidence to link them to the Bofors payoffs and thereby virtually knocking the bottom out of the case. When he was arrested in Argentina on February 6 this year, on the basis of a 1997 Interpol Red Corner notice, the Centre maintained an inexplicable silence for over a fortnight. Shockingly, the Additional Solicitor General misled the Supreme Court by not informing it about the arrest in a case relating to Mr. Quattrocchi's London bank accounts. Clearly, the Centre seems prepared to go to any length to protect the man referred to as `Q' in former Bofors chief Martin Ardbo's diary and linked to the illegal payoffs made by the Swedish arms manufacturer through a shadowy company called A.E. Services. The CBI must appeal against the verdict in the Supreme Court of Argentina after ensuring it does its paper work — this time thoroughly and honestly.