Ottavio Quattrocchi, an Italian businessman, died from a heart attack on 13 July 2013 thus ending the irrepressible Bofors scandal that has dogged the Congress for about a quarter of a century. All the key players of this drama are now dead. With Quattrocchi’s death, one of the biggest corruption scandals to rock the Indian government will also be quietly interred.
Quattrocchi was the key link in trying to nail the Bofors kickback scam. Allegedly Quattrocchi was brokering the deal for the Swedish company and $11 million was paid to high-ranking politicians, defence personnel and bureaucrats. The most devastating accused was then Prime Minister of the country, Rajiv Gandhi.
The saga started in 1984 when the Indian Army floated a tender for Howitzer guns. The army needed guns with a range of 30 km. Of the two shortlisted ones, one had a range of 29.2 km and another had a range of 21.5 km. The first one with the longer range was a French company (Sofma) and the second was a Swedish company, Bofors. We all know which one got the $285 million contract in 1984.
Swedish Radio broke the scandal on April 16, 1987 when it alleged that Bofors sealed the deal by paying illegal commissions – illegal commissions are termed as kickbacks. It is widely alleged that Quattrocchi received 3% of the “illegal commissions” as his commission. It was also later revealed that Bofors was illegally permitted to alter its bid without re-tendering. The first Indian paper to break this story was The Hindu. The journalist was Chitra Subramaniam and the editor was N. Ram. The journalist had secured 150 documents that detailed the payoffs.
On May 21, 1991, Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated.
In 1993 the CBI sought to impound Quattrocchi’s passport and tried to question him. However, before either of these came to pass Quattrocchi left for Kuala Lampur, Malaysia.
In 1997, after years of legal battle, the Swiss banks released about 500 documents.
In March 1999, Quattrocchi claimed in an interview that he never received any payment from Bofors.
On October 22, 1999, when the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) was in power, the CBI filed the first charge sheet against Quattrocchi, Rajiv Gandhi, Win Chadha and the defence secretary S. K. Bhatnagar.
In 2001, Win Chadha and S. K. Bhatnagar died,
The Delhi High Court invalidated the case on June10, 2002.
On July 7, 2003 the Delhi High Court’s ruling was reversed by the Supreme Court.
Also, in 2003 attempts to Quattrocchi from Malaysia failed and he went back to Italy.
However, the case gained a sudden fillip when the Interpol divulged that two bank accounts 5A5151516M and 5A5151516L held by Quattrocchi and his wife Maria had huge amounts of 3 million Euros and 1 million USD respectively. These accounts were in BSI AG Bank, London. At the behest of the CBI, these accounts were frozen.
In 2004, when the Congress was back in power, the Delhi High Court quashed the bribery charges against Rajiv Gandhi on basis of inadequate evidence.
In 2005, the Delhi High Court dropped all allegations against Shrichand, Gopichand and Prakash Hinduja, businessmen based in Britain. The reason citied was that the photocopies of documents submitted by the CBI were not properly certified by Swedish authorities.
In December 2005/January 2006, the Additional Solicitor General of India, B. Datta, acting on behalf of the Indian Government requested that Quattrocchi two frozen bank accounts should be released. An e-mail from the British authorities was cited in India Today. It said: Mr Datta conveyed his instructions on behalf of the Government of India, the Ministry of Justice and the Central Bureau of Investigation that no useful purpose will be served by maintaining the Restraining Order dated July 25, 2003, as there is no longer any reasonable prospect of the case against Mr Quattrocchi proceeding to trial.
The CBI filed an affidavit in January 2006 with the Supreme Court claiming that the case was still on-going and they were pursuing it.
In 2007 Quattrocchi was detained in Argentina. This was done because the Interpol has a Red Corner Notice to arrest him. The Notice had been issued at the request of the CBI. The news of his arrest was only released by the CBI after almost half-a-month. The excuse: it took CBI that much time to translate the message from Spanish. (This claim was later proved false because the CBI had received the message in English). India lost the case for the extradition of Quattrocchi from Argentina to India because as the judge in Argentina remarked: “India did not even present proper legal documents”. As a consequence India was asked to pay Quattrocchi legal expenses.
In April 2009, the CBI requested the Interpol to remove the Red Corner Notice.
In 2011, the Tis Hazari court allowed the CBI to withdraw the prosecution against Quattrocchi and discharged the case against him. The Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Vinod Yadav, wrote a 73-page order, in which he said that the CBI, despite “spending through the nose for about 21 years, has not been able to put forward legally sustainable evidence with regard to conspiracy in the matter. Further, in the case of Mr. Quattrocchi, as against the alleged kickbacks of Rs. 640 million he received, the CBI had by 2005 already spent around Rs. 2.50 billion on the investigation, which is sheer wastage of public money.”
Allegedly Vinod Yadav also has said, “I agree that there are certain malafide intentions in the case and there is no doubt in that”
Quattrocchi officially represented an Italian company Snamprogetti for which he won about 60 projects including:
- Five Alibaug plants from RCF
- Four Hazira plants from Kribhco
- Hazira gas pipeline from ONGC
- 1983: One plan in Una and two in Guna from NFL
- 1984: Three plants in Aonia from IFFCO
- 1987: Two plants in Kakinada from NFCL
By Sujata Garimella