Bofors payoff closure case deferred to Thursday (Intro Roundup)

January 4th, 2011 - 7:55 pm ICT by IANS  

Bharatiya Janata Party New Delhi, Jan 4 (IANS) India’s premier probe agency Tuesday again sought withdrawal of the case against Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi in the Bofors payoffs scam citing lack of evidence, a day after a tax tribunal ruled that illegal commissions were indeed paid in the Rs.15-billion gun deal of 1986. Hitting out at the government, the Bharatiya Janata Party said “a big powerful hidden hand was available to save Quattrocchi”.

A Delhi lower court hearing the matter deferred the decision for Thursday after the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and advocate Ajay Agarwal, who is challenging the CBI plea, made their observations.

Agarwal told the court that the case should be re-looked at as the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal had confirmed that Rs.412 million was paid by the Swedish company, AB Bofors, to Quattrocchi and his associate Win Chadha for facilitating the contract of supplying over 400 Howitzer field guns to the Indian Army.

Additional Solicitor General P.P. Malhotra, appearing for the CBI, said the tribunal findings were nothing new as the same had been mentioned in a chargesheet filed by it earlier.

“I am not disputing what the tribunal has said. It is mentioned in the chargesheet. There is nothing new (in the tribunal order),” Malhotra told the court.

He said the court should decide on CBI’s withdrawal application considering whether it has been filed with bonafide intention or not. “There is no need for the court to go into the merits of the case. The court should look only whether there is a bonafide intention on the part of CBI or not. Merit has no relevance in this (closure) case.”

Agarwal told IANS that he argued that the CBI application was “not bonafide”.

“There is no public interest involved. The application should be rejected,” he said, adding that he pointed out the tribunal’s order to the court.

Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Vinod Yadav said the two issues were “different” since the tribunal order was about tax evasion while his court was hearing criminal proceedings against the accused.

Agarwal said he also told the court that Law Minister M. Veerappa Moily had said Monday that the government would re-examine the issue in the light of the tribunal order.

The judge then asked the CBI counsel whether they had received any fresh missive from the government in the light of the tribunal’s order.

Malhotra replied there was no word from the government and, accordingly, wanted to pursue with the withdrawal of the case against 70-year-old Quattrocchi.

The agency had in 1999 charged former defence secretary S.K. Bhatnagar, Quattrocchi, Chadha, former Bofors chief Martin Ardbo and the company in connection with the case.

Bhatnagar, Ardbo and Chadha are dead. Quattrocchi - who has never appeared before any court in India - is the only surviving accused.

The agency has failed on two occasions to get Quattrocchi extradited — first from Malaysia in 2003 and then from Argentina in 2007 — after which it said there was no real purpose in going ahead with the case.

The matter took a fresh twist Monday after the IT tribunal ruled that Quattrocchi and his partner Win Chadha did get commission of over Rs.412 million in the gun deal.

The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Tuesday upped the ante against the government and sought an apology from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh over the Bofors scandal.

“I am quoting a PM’s quote in the past: ‘It’s not a good reflection of the Indian legal system that we harass people. The Q case is embarrassing for the Indian government. When the IT tribunal has found ‘Q’ was the middleman and was given kickbacks, would the PM apologise for his earlier statement?” BJP’s Ravi Shankar Prasad said.

“Power was abused to bail out Quattrocchi as he’s close to the Gandhis… A big powerful hidden hand was available to save Quattrocchi,” the BJP leader said, targetting the Congress-led government that is battling corruption charges in the 2G spectrum allotment and holding of the Commonwealth Games.

Law Minister Moily Monday lashed out at the BJP for tying to link Quattrocchi to the Congress.

“His (Quattrocchi’s) direct linkage to Congress or its leader is totally baseless,” Moily said in Bangalore.

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