J. Venkatesan

Did Government and CBI demand that accounts be de-freezed, asks Bench

Government, CBI to file affidavitFollow proper procedure Don't play to the gallery, petitioner told

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday told Additional Solicitor- General Gopal Subramaniam, appearing for the Centre, that steps should be taken for maintaining status quo on the two London bank accounts of Ottavio Quattrocchi, accused in the Bofors payoffs case. The accounts were frozen in July 2003 at the Government's request.

"Till further orders we direct the Centre and the Central Bureau of Investigation to take necessary steps for maintenance of status quo on the accounts so that de-freezing does not take place. If de-freezing has already taken place, the amounts should not be allowed to be withdrawn," said a three-judge Bench comprising Chief Justice Y.K. Sabharwal, Justice C.K. Thakker and Justice R.V. Raveendran.

The Bench wanted to know whether the Centre and the CBI had asked that Mr. Quattrocchi's accounts be de-freezed. "If this was so, at whose instance was the de-freezing of his accounts acted upon?"

The Chief Justice told Mr. Subramaniam, "If the Centre and the CBI are of the view that the case be dropped against him, obviously they should have gone to the criminal court [in the capital where the trial is pending]. You go to the criminal court, file a proper petition that he [Mr. Quattrrocchi] is not wanted in the case. There is a proper procedure for doing things."

Earlier, the Bench pulled up Ajay Agarwal, a lawyer, for filing his petition based on media reports and unnecessarily including Law Minister H.R. Bhardwaj and Additional Solicitor-General B. Dutta as parties. "It is for the Government to come and satisfy the court. You are trying to politicise the issue by making the Law Minister and ASG unnecessary respondents. Don't play to the gallery."

Last year the apex court issued notice on the special leave petition (SLP) filed by the advocate challenging the Delhi High Court judgment giving a clean chit to the Europe-based Hinduja brothers and holding that no case was made out against them. The SLP was filed as public interest litigation as the CBI did not prefer an appeal within the stipulated period.

Now the lawyer filed the application following reports that the Union of India and the CBI sent a senior law officer to the United Kingdom to instruct the Crown Prosecution Service to de-freeze the two accounts .