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HVK Archives: We have friends, you know

We have friends, you know - The Indian Express

Paranjoy Guha Thakurta ()
14 February 1997

Title : We have friends, you know
Author : Paranjoy Guha Thakurta
Publication : The Indian Express
Date : February 14, 1997

The first aspect of Ottavio Quattrocchi's personality that strikes
anyone who has met him is his constant endeavour to be affable. He
would often bend over backwards when asked to nod his head. Some of
the sweetness was obviously put on, one later realised. For, when
the occasion arose, he could be rude and brusque. And patronising
as well, while educating the uninitiated about his connections with
the First Family.

The other aspect about the famous Q is that while the media
invariably referred to him as an Italian businessman, he was
perhaps more Indian than Italian: he lived in India for nearly
three decades. His four children were born in this country. With an
annual vacation in Italy, the Quattrocchis were seemingly not very
different from most expatriate families - his son had even got
himself enrolled in a South Delhi college.

But there was a difference and a big one at that. The Quattrocchis
were different simply because they had access to the family of the
highest of the land. lie smooth-talking Italian would walk the
corridors of power, reminding all and sundry about the holidays
spent with the Gandhi-Maino families. I recall Q once telling me
about how his wife Maria was perhaps the only Italian woman in New
Delhi who was an old friend of Sonia Gandhi, about how his children
played with Priyanka and Rahul.

The stocky Italian lobbyist possibly acquired an aura which was
disproportionate to the clout he actually wielded. But that hardly
mattered. Union ministers and secretaries, not to mention heads of
public sector undertakings, were more than willing to genuflect
before him.

Quattrocchi came to India in February 1964. He was then a junior
representative of Snamprogetti, a company which was part of the
giant Italian public sector energy and engineering conglomerate,
the ENI group. At the time he decided to flee his "second hone" in
July 1993, he had been promoted as Regional Director for South
Asia. While the Italian company undertook a number of relatively
small assignments for various fertiliser concerns in the country
from the early- 1970s onwards, it acquired a high and controversial
profile during Indira Gandhi's Emergency.

While bagging two contracts for the Gujarat Narmada Valley
Fertilisers Company and Rashtriya Chemicals and Fertilisers,
Quattrocchi was allegedly able to ensure that at least one
prominent politician who was less than polite with him was eased
out. This person was the former Minister of State for Fertilisers,
Ramachandra Rath. Snamprogetti's meteoric rise started after 1980
when Mrs Gandhi reversed a decision of the previous Janata
Government and awarded a contract for the Thai-Vaishet fertiliser
complex to the Italian firm and its Danish associate Haldor Topsoe.

It was not just Opposition politicians who were critical of
Snamprogetti. The World Bank and the Confederation of Engineering
Industry (the predecessor of the CII) independently argued that the
fertiliser plants which came up along the HBJ pipeline cost the
nation an extra Rs. 100 crore each on account of the Government's
commitment to use Snamprogetti-Haldor Topsoe technology.

But such criticism hardly deterred Q. On the contrary, he appeared
to grow even more ambitious and Snamprogetti became part of a
consortium which bid for the main HBJ pipeline contract. By them
the Italian company had received contracts for projects worth a
fabulous Rs. 8,000 crore. Vishwanath Pratap Singh is on record
saying that his relations with Rajiv started souring when, as
Finance Minister, he was unwilling to favour the consortium led by
the Italian company.

V. P. Singh went on to claim that Rajiv Gandhi had sent him a list
of points to consider while assessing the bids for the HBJ pipeline
which were identical to the representation earlier made to the
Finance Ministry by Snamprogetti. Arun Nehru too claimed that he
fell out with Rajiv after the main contract to build the HBJ
pipeline was awarded to Snamprogetti's rival consortium led by the
French firm Spie Capag.

Meanwhile, it was revealed that the former Bofors executive Martin
Ardbo's diary contained a reference to one "Q". Around this time, I
received a tip-off from a source that Quattrocchi and his family
had gone for a holiday to Sardinia. And the family had stayed at
Hotel Moresco. (Moresco was the name in account in which the
Bofors' slush funds were lodged.)

My editor urged me to dig deeper. I perused a detailed tourist
guide and sure enough, there was indeed a Hotel Moresco in
Sardinia. I contracted a friend who spoke Italian and got her to
call up the hotel. But the voice at the other end said the hotel
was closed as it was off-season and that the owner was away.

I thought I should meet Q. My editor said: "I know him. Let's play
cops. You be the bad cop and I will be the good cop." I wasn't
sure what he meant. Nevertheless, I went across and met Q at his
office. He insisted that everything he would say would be off the
record. His plea was simple: yes, he and his family had stayed in
Hotel Moresco but he had nothing to do with the Bofors scandal.
Within minutes of my leaving his office, my editor received a phone
call from the man complaining about this pesky journalist who was
intruding upon his privacy. The story remained unpublished.

Soon after the Swiss authorities revealed that Quattrocchi was
among the appellants who had resisted the transfer of documents to
India, the Italian issued a statement reiterating his claim that he
was not involved in the Bofors deal. When I asked him if he was
going to flee India, he emphatically said: "Can't you see me. I am
here. I am not going anywhere as I have nothing to fear. If I have
done anything wrong, let them come and arrest me."

Before leaving his office, Q insisted I take with me a glossy book
on Roman art. He said he would not let me leave unless I accepted
the gift. I did, but was disappointed that yet again, I had no

I never met Q again. A few weeks after the last meeting, in July
1993, Quattrocchi left for Italy on a Lufthansa flight. For days
thereafter, Q's colleagues maintained that he would be returning to
India soon. It was later learnt that Maria returned to Delhi
briefly to pack up their belongings.

Justice, it would seem, has a strange way of catching up with even
the street-smart.

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