Ottavio Quattrocchi (74), who was main accused in the Bofors scam, died in Milan on Friday, thus bringing to an end a quarter-century-old saga of political bickering between the Congress and its rivals over the infamous gun deal.
Though all charges against the Italian businessman were withdrawn by the Central Bureau of Investigation two years back, his name and his alleged links with the Gandhi family kept the Bofors-pot boiling in the political firmament.
A year after the $285 million Bofors gun deal was signed between the Indian government and the Swedish arms firm in 1986, Swedish radio came up with the bribery allegations, and the news was followed up in painstaking detail by The Hindu. Later, V.P. Singh named the former Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, as a beneficiary, but these charges were never proved by various inquiry commissions set up after he took over as Prime Minister following the Congress’ electoral debacle in 1989.
The CBI registered the case in 1990. Even as the probe was on into alleged kickbacks paid to top politicians, Quattrocchi left India in 1993 out of fear of being arrested.
Though the CBI managed to get a Red Corner Notice issued against him by the Interpol, Quattrocchi never came back to India despite the fact that attempts were made to extradite him — first from Malaysia in 2003 and then from Argentina in 2007.
While discharging Quattrocchi in 2011, the court noted 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 kickback of Rs. 64 crore he received, the CBI had by 2005 already spent around Rs. 250 crore on the investigation, which is sheer wastage of public money.”
After giving the order, Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Vinod Yadav recited famous lines from an old Hindi film song — “Woh afsana jisse anjaam tak laana na ho mumkin, usse ek khoobsurat mod dekhar chhodna hi achha” — which translates to: “A story that cannot be taken to a logical end; it is better to leave it at a good juncture.”
No one was ever convicted in the case. While some of the other accused — former Bofors chief Martin Ardbo, Bofors agent Win Chadha and former Defence Secretary S.K. Bhatnagar — are all dead, the Hinduja brothers were also discharged. While referring to the Bofors case in 2009, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said: “The Quattrocchi case is an embarrassment for India … It is not a good reflection on the Indian legal system that we harass people while the world says we have no case.”
A ghost created by BJP, says Congress
Meanwhile, the Congress said Quattrocchi was a “ghost” created by the BJP and slammed the Opposition for trying to use his name to “besmirch” the party and the Gandhi family.
Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi said Quattrocchi was a “ghost” created by the BJP and charges against him had been quashed during the NDA rule. “I don’t understand why the Congress should react to the death of somebody who has been a ghost created by the BJP. Somebody has died, his family deserves condolences,” he told NDTV.
Mr. Singhvi said it was in 2004 that the Delhi High Court quashed the charges against Quattrocchi, and the NDA government did not appeal against the ruling.
BJP leader Prakash Javadekar, however, dismissed Mr. Singhvi’s charge, saying the ghost was created because the Congress was “hosting” him. “...the ghost was not created by the BJP but by [the former Prime Minister,] V.P. Singh, and if we created the ghost, it is because you were hosting it."