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Govt's Q cover-up akin to account defreeze plot

Govt's Q cover-up akin to account defreeze plot

Author: Abraham Thomas
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: February 26, 2007

The deliberate suppression of news about the detention of Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi for 17 days bears a stark similarity to the way the Government kept under wraps its move to defreeze the two London bank accounts maintained by Quattrocchi.

When Additional Solicitor General B Dutta met the Crown Prosecution Services (CPS) officials in London on December 22, 2005, the Government in effect had conveyed its permission to defreeze Quattrocchi's accounts. Yet till January 16, 2006 when the matter was taken up by the Supreme Court, the Government had dropped no hints about this development, till the Indian newspapers broke the news that Dutta had indeed cleared the decks for Quattrocchi to withdraw money from his accounts.

Quattrocchi is facing a Red Corner Notice for his alleged involvement in the multi-crore Bofors gun deal. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has charged him with receiving payoffs amounting to Rs 64 crore as commission for the Swiss guns being delivered to India. While a trial court is still proceeding with the case against Quattrocchi, the Delhi High Court on May 31, 2005 had passed a direction discharging the Hinduja brothers, who too were charged with receiving kickbacks from the deal.

In this context, the CPS had sought the opinion of the Indian Government as to whether the high court direction had any effect on Quattrocchi, who maintained two bank accounts in London, where the money as payoffs received by him was deposited. On July 25, 2003, the Indian authorities had issued a restraint order freezing the bank accounts.

Holding the brief to explain the implications of the HC's order, Dutta in his meeting with CPS officials had conveyed that no useful purpose would be served by maintaining the restraint order as there is no longer any reasonable prospect of the case against Quattrocchi proceeding to trial. On his return, ASG presented the record of his meeting with CPS officials to the CBI. Subsequently, the CPS had moved an application for discharge of restrain order, in response to which the Indian Government issued orders on January 11, 2006.

After a television channel broke the news the same day, a petition was filed in the Supreme Court by advocate Ajay K Agrawal demanding the Government's response on whether Quattrocchi's accounts were permitted to be defreezed.

Appearing before the court on January 16, 2006, the Centre kept the court in the dark by refusing to reveal the facts. Consequently, the court ordered status quo with regard to freezing of accounts.

The same day, however, Quattrocchi withdrew the money. This information was brought to the court's notice on January 23, 2006 when a CBI affidavit made the shocking disclosure that the money held in Quattrocchi's account had been withdrawn.

The conduct of the CBI in suppressing information about Quattrocchi's detention then comes as little surprise. Here again, the CBI failed to disclose about Quattrocchi's detention by Interpol in Argentina on February 6, 2007 despite the matter pertaining to his extradition being listed in the Supreme Court on February 12. The court has granted four-week time to the investigating agency to reply on the efforts made to recover the amount withdrawn by Quattrocchi.


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