Bofors storm rages again, Congress under fire (Roundup)

April 28th, 2009 - 8:32 pm ICT by IANS  

Bharatiya Janata Party New Delhi, April 28 (IANS) The Bofors gun payoff scandal flared up again Tuesday with the election-wrapped Congress coming under all round attack over the CBI decision to remove Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi, the lone surviving suspect in the case, from its list of wanted persons.
The 12-year Interpol Red Corner Notice, or lookout notice, against Quattrocchi, who has till date evaded interrogation, was taken off from the “wanted” section of the agency’s website, reportedly on the legal advice of Attorney General Milon Banerjee in October last year.

As the CBI’s move was scooped by the Indian Express newspaper Tuesday, two days before the third round of India’s five-phase general elections, it provided readymade ammunition to political parties seeking to end five years of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) accused the Congress of turning the CBI into a “Congress Bureau of Investigation” and branded the decision a “farewell gift” from the government to a “close friend” of Congress chief Sonia Gandhi.

BJP leader L.K. Advani, campaigning in Gujarat, said the decision proved that the Congress was not confident of returning to power after the staggered Lok Sabha elections ending next month.

“Manmohan Singh’s party wanted to remove his name from the list. The decision indicates they think their party will not come back to power,” he said. “I condemn the decision.”

Under flak, CBI spokesperson Harsh Behl said the agency would inform the special judge of a Delhi court, trying the 1987 case of the Rs.640 million payoff for the Swedish howitzer guns, of the decision during the next hearing on April 30.

“The case has been under trial in the courts since 1999. The CBI has taken action on basis of legal advice of the highest order. We will inform the competent court,” said Behl.

Quattrocchi, accused by the CBI of receiving millions of dollars in commissions for helping to fix the $1.4 billion gun deal in the mid-1980s, was detained in February 2007 in Argentina where he was holidaying with his wife on the basis of an Interpol warrant.

But the CBI took time in translating documents that were to be presented in the designated court there and put up a half-hearted effort towards his extradition. It lost the case for his extradition four months later.

The BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Advani reminded voters that though the Congress led by Rajiv Gandhi won a thumping majority in the 1984 elections, it lost power five years later due to the Bofors controversy.

In New Delhi, BJP general secretary Arun Jaitley was at his sarcastic best.

“The CBI has become an embarrassment for the entire country. Quattrochi has been a close friend of the Congress leadership. Therefore, at the time of the departure (of the UPA government), it is a gift to the citizen of a privileged country. It is a gift to a nation in law,” he said.

The Congress tried to downplay the embarrassment, saying the Bofors row was “a dead horse”.

“Bofors has been a dead horse which the BJP has tried to flog in several elections, and it has not succeeded,” said Congress spokesman Abhishek Manu Singhvi.

Law Minister H.R. Bhardwaj argued that the government had nothing to do with the development.

“The government had no role in the removal of the red corner notice,” he said. “The CBI acted solely on the advice of the attorney general. It is a politically motivated allegation.”

But the opposition was not satisfied.

While Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati alleged that the government was misusing the CBI, the Left parties described the move as a subversion of justice.

“The CBI decision to remove Ottavio Quattrocchi from its list of wanted persons has again unmasked the Congress,” said Mayawati.

The case against Quattrocchi, known to be close to the late Rajiv Gandhi, who was prime minister in 1987 when the scandal broke, and his wife Sonia, has taken tortuous twists and turns after being named in a CBI chargesheet as the conduit for the Bofors bribes in 1999.

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