J. Venkatesan

Rejects plea that CBI had withheld information to the court on Quattrocchi’s detention

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday refused to issue contempt notice to the former Director of the Central Bureau of Investigation, Vijay Shankar, on an application alleging that the CBI had suppressed information to the court on the detention of Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi, accused in the Rs. 64-crore Bofors payoffs case in Argentina.

A Bench consisting of Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan and Justice Aftab Alam rejected the plea of advocate Ajay Agrawal, who had filed the contempt application alleging that the CBI had withheld the information on February 7, 2007 regarding Mr. Quattrocchi’s detention on February 6 itself. Mr. Agrawal argued that such suppression would amount to contempt of court.

Mr. Agrawal had filed a writ petition in the apex court in January 2006 for a direction that the amounts lying (at that time) in the ‘de-frozen’ accounts of Mr. Quattrocchi in London not be released to him as Red Corner Notice was already pending against him. He alleged that since the CBI took no action, Mr. Quattrocchi succeeded in withdrawing the amounts from the two accounts. The contempt application was filed in that petition.

Even as Mr. Agrawal was insisting that contempt had been committed, Justice Balakrishnan asked counsel “What is the nature of the contempt that has been committed. Was there any violation of the orders by the CBI and the then Director in the administration of justice by concealing the material fact.”

Additional Solicitor General, Gopal Subramaniam explained the steps taken by the CBI since Mr. Quattrocchi’s detention on February 6, 2007 on an Interpol alert notice. He said that though there was no extradition treaty with Argentina, the Central government had sought Mr. Quattrocchi’s extradition and furnished the extradition documents to Argentine authorities through diplomatic channels.

He said all major charges against the accused in the Bofors case were dropped by the Delhi High Court in 2004 after a statement made by the then government that there was no evidence to proceed against the accused under the Prevention of Corruption Act. He said subsequently on May 31, 2005, the High Court had quashed other charges framed by the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate against the accused.

The ASG said officers were sent to various places and no evidence was found against Mr. Quottrocchi that the funds in the two bank accounts in London were the commission he received from Bofors.

To a question from Justice Balakrishnan whether any appeal had been filed against the 2005 High Court judgment, Mr. Agrawal said since the CBI did not prefer an appeal, he had filed an appeal and it was still pending. Justice Balakrishnan said “unless you convince the court in what manner contempt has been committed, we will not issue notice. We will hear the main petition [filed in 2006] in February 2009.”