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Quattrocchi at last held in Argentina

Quattrocchi at last held in Argentina

Author: Pioneer News Service
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: February 24, 2007

CBI faces flak for hiding news for 17 days

The ghost of Bofors once again appears poised to return to the centrestage of Indian politics with the detention in Argentina of Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi, accused in the Rs 64 crore gun deal scam.

The news was broken by the CBI on Friday night, more than a fortnight after Quattrocchi was taken into preventive custody by Argentinean authorities at Iguazu international airport on February 6 in compliance with an Interpol Red Alert notice.

Sources said that Argentinean authorities had communicated to the Indian Government about Quattrocchi's arrest on February 8 and the CBI also came to know of the development on the same day.

Strangely, on February 12 the CBI had informed the Supreme Court hearing a PIL on the Government's lacklustre approach in tracing Quattrocchi that it had no clue about his whereabouts. The petitioner had urged the court to seek CBI's explanation of the delay in recovering three million pounds withdrawn by Quattrocchi from two London bank accounts last year. Quattrocchi was able to withdraw the money after senior law officials of India told the London banks that the money was not linked to Bofors payoff. The court had asked the CBI to submit a detailed report of its progress within four weeks.

Advocate Ajay K Agarwal, who had filed the petition, said the CBI's conduct showed "serious disregard to the apex court and the agency is liable for contempt."

A day after the Supreme Court's intervention, on February 13 top CBI and Government officials had met to discuss the development and the course of action to be followed in Quattrocchi case. Sources said that everyone in the Government, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh were aware of Quattrocchi's detention from day one.

The undue delay in the announcement led to raising of many an eyebrow. Former CBI Director Joginder Singh said it was highly unlikely that the Argentinean authorities would take so much time in informing the CBI.

"Normally such developments are communicated to concerned authorities through diplomatic channels without delay," he said.

The CBI statement issued this Friday evening said after confirming the veracity of Quattrocchi's identity and detention the agency has requested the Ministry of External Affairs for sending the extradition request through diplomatic channels to the Argentinean Government.

"Legal formalities as required under Argentine Extradition Act are being fulfilled on the basis of reciprocity as there is no extradition treaty between India and Argentina," it said.

The announcement immediately led to a rise in the political temperature with opposition BJP threatening to expose the UPA Government's laxity in bringing Quattrocchi to book in the 14-year-old case.

"We will raise the issue forcefully in and out of Parliament and expose the UPA Government, which had shamelessly agreed to defreezing of Quattrocchi's London bank accounts and allowing him to get away with the loot," said BJP spokesman Ravi Shankar Prasad.

Congress leaders were fumbling for words and few of them were willing to comment. In private, however, they expressed apprehension that the BJP and the Samajwadi Party would use the Bofors case in politically crucial Uttar Pradesh assembly elections to embarrass Congress president Sonia Gandhi.

The opposition has all along complained that the UPA Government was trying to bail out Quattrocchi because of his connection with Sonia Gandhi.

The CBI said after observing mandatory legal and diplomatic formalities, extradition request to extradite Quattrocchi shall be presented through diplomatic channels to the designated Argentine court. "It is mandatory that the formal extradition request is presented within 30 days of his detention," it added.

Quattrocchi was on way to Buenos Aires when he was arrested in Misiones Province in Argentine, who informed the Indian authorities through diplomatic channels. Interpol, Buenos Aires also informed the CBI immediately.

Quattrocchi, who was close to the Gandhi family, was alleged to have received kickbacks from the Swedish arms manufacturer Bofors for the contract to sell 155mm Howitzer guns to the Indian army. He had left India in 1993 at the height of probe into the Bofors scandal.

The news of Quattrocchi's detention may have come as a shot in the arm for CBI, which received flak in January last year after a British bank de-froze the Italian businessman bank account.

The bank action came after the agency failed to provide any evidence to the British Crown Prosecution Service, which had frozen his two bank accounts having three million pounds in July 2003.

The Interpol had informed the CBI that the accounts were frozen after the Crown Prosecution Service of London obtained the restraining order against Quattrocchi for operation of the bank accounts.

The accounts were frozen after the CBI had claimed that Quattrocchi had received 712 million dollars from AB Bofors through AE Services, a UK-based company.

After receiving this money, Quattrocchi had been transferring the funds from one account to another and from one jurisdiction to another to avoid detection and evade the due process of law.

Quattrocchi has been missing since a Malaysian lower court had rejected the extradition request of India and allowed him to travel abroad in 2002.

Besides, the CBI had been in touch with the authorities of Italy for ascertaining the whereabouts of Quattrocchi through Interpol and diplomatic channels

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