Special Correspondent

Crown Prosecution requested clarifications on High Court judgments

CPS also wanted to know why Malaysian courts refused to extradite Quattrocchi No question of Law Ministry, DoPT interfering with CBI jurisdiction

NEW DELHI: The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on Monday said it had proposed on November 16 last to send a senior Government law officer to London to explain to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) the "legal implications" relating the freezing of the bank accounts of Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi, accused in the Bofors payoff case.

The clarification comes four days after a political row erupted over Union Law Minister H.R. Bhardwaj defending the Government's decision to de-freeze the two bank accounts. Though reports suggested that the London High Court ordered de-freezing of the accounts on January 11, the CBI said it was yet to receive a communication from either the CPS or the British authorities on the de-freezing of the accounts containing $1 million and three million Euros.

Addressing a hurriedly convened press conference here, CBI Joint Director A.K. Majumdar, who has handled the Bofors probe, said the agency would continue its efforts to get Mr. Quattrocchi to stand trial in the case pending before the court of Chief Metropolitan Magistrate, Delhi.

Clarification sought

Narrating the sequence of events that led to the visit of the Additional Solicitor-General B. Dutta to London on December 22 last, Mr. Majumdar said the CPS officials had asked for clarifications on implications of the two Delhi High Court judgments of February 2004 and May 2005 in which charges against public servants and the Hinduja brothers were quashed in the pay-offs case.

"It also wanted to know on what technical grounds Malaysian courts had refused to extradite Mr. Quattrocchi to India. So it was decided by the CBI to send a law officer, to be accompanied by an officer of the agency, to explain the legal position relating to the case," Mr. Majumdar said.

He said only the CBI had been in touch with the CPS and there was no question of either the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) or the Law Ministry stepping into its jurisdiction. "Our proposal was examined and approved by the DoPT but the Integrated Finance Division ruled out the visit of the CBI officer and a junior of Mr. Dutta to London on the ground that only the legal implications were to be explained," he said. Mr. Dutta, who was to leave here for London on December 8 last, could undertake the visit only on December 22 due to certain problems in "scheduling" his visit. As Mr. Dutta was fully conversant with the facts of the Bofors case, he was chosen to represent the CBI.

He said the CBI had briefed Mr. Dutta in detail about the visit and the fact that it had failed to connect the money in two frozen bank accounts of Mr. Quattrocchi to the alleged illegal pay-offs of the Bofors case.

Trail goes cold

Asked about the probe into the two frozen bank accounts between July 2003 and November 2005, Mr. Majumdar said that Letter Rogatories were sent to the Bahamas but the money trail could not be traced there. Later, the CBI took up the matter with the Indian Embassy in Switzerland and, according to Swiss law, the probe into old bank accounts became time-barred. "They informed us that many of the banks since then had disintegrated and there was no record available to trace the origin of funds. Since this transaction is of 2003, fresh Letter Rogatories will be sent to Swiss authorities," he said.

The CBI Joint Director said an Interpol Red Corner notice was still out against Mr. Quattrocchi, who was chargesheeted in 1999 six years after he left India.

To a question, Mr. Majumdar said the CPS had also wanted to know if Sections 82 and 83 of the Cr.PC declaring Mr. Quattrocchi a proclaimed offender could be invoked. Since Mr. Quattrocchi was a foreigner and did not have any properties in India, he could not be declared a proclaimed offender - a condition that could have made things more difficult for him before the British authorities.