While alleged kickback was Rs.64 crore, CBI already spent Rs.250 crore; "wastage of public money"
A major chapter in the 25-year-old Bofors saga was closed on Friday with a Tis Hazari court here discharging Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi from the payoffs case after allowing the CBI to withdraw prosecution against him.
Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Vinod Yadav, in his 73-page order, 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.”
Under the circumstances, the application seeking withdrawal of prosecution “appeared to be bona fide and in the larger public interest.”
Mr. Yadav started by reciting 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.”
The grounds stated by the CBI in 2009 for withdrawal of prosecution were: more than 19 years had passed since the first case was registered in 1990; all the other accused had died or proceedings against them had been quashed by the Delhi High Court; attempts to extradite Mr. Quattrocchi from Malaysia and Argentina had failed; and the Delhi High Court in 2004 had knocked out allegations of corruption or conspiracy with public servants.
The application was opposed by advocate Ajay Kumar Aggarwal on the ground that he as a public spirited citizen had “locus standi” to intervene in the case in the “public interest.”
But Additional Solicitor-General P.P. Malhotra said Mr. Aggarwal had no right to oppose the application. However, the court had allowed him to make arguments as “amicus curiae” in the larger interest of justice.
Mr. Yadav said his primary task was to decide whether the CBI had sufficient evidence to proceed with the prosecution; whether further heavy expenses would be borne by the state; and whether it was in the interest of public policy.
In his order, Mr. Yadav also quoted from the February 4, 2004 High Court judgment, to indicate that the CBI had failed to prove that the money transferred by A.B. Bofors (Swedish arms company) to various agents including Mr. Quattrocchi was meant to be paid as a bribe to public servants in India. He also cited the orders of Malaysian and Argentinean courts, which were unconvinced by the offences made out by the CBI against Mr. Quattrocchi.
(In 1986, a $15-billion contract was signed between the Indian government and A.B. Bofors for supply of over four hundred 155 mm howitzer field guns.)
Mr. Yadav took serious note of Mr. Malhotra's submission that “no other country would allow extradition applications of the Indian government” because of two precedents of two countries, which at the time of considering extradition applications considered the merits of the case as well.
Besides noting that Mr. Aggarwal had no “locus standi” to oppose the application, Mr. Yadav took a harsh view of his conduct during the proceedings, saying he was interested in “cheap publicity” through the media and “innumerable court days were wasted” by him.
Talking to journalists later, Mr. Aggarwal said he had no intention of giving up on the case and would appeal in the High Court.