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Nobody would have thought there was any public interest left in Bofors, a quintessential 20th century corruption scandal involving top political figures in India and Sweden. But the ghosts of Bofors have a habit of returning to haunt the functionaries and apologists of the party behind the scandal and its cover-up. Congress or Congress-led governments have gone to extraordinary lengths over two decades to obstruct and subvert justice in the Bofors criminal case. The latest instance is getting the Central Bureau of Investigation to ask Interpol to withdraw its Red Corner Notice against Ottavio Quattrocchi, the sole surviving accused in the corruption case and a fugitive from justice. This allows the Italian wheeler-dealer, who enjoyed unrestricted access to the highest reaches of power in 1986 when the Rs.1,437 crore howitzer deal was struck, to travel abroad without fear of arrest or extradition. It is not as though evidence on his key role in the Bofors scandal is in short supply. Swiss bank documents and a mass of other evidence assembled by the CBI in its criminal investigation have established that, using a front called A.E. Services Ltd., Mr. Quattrocchi and his wife received kickbacks amounting to $7.32 million from the Swedish arms manufacturer for no demonstrable services rendered.


Time and again, the Bofors payoff case has exposed, aside from unclean political hands, the CBI's shameful lack of independence and the willingness of the country's top law officers to oblige their political patrons. If attempts to bring Mr. Quattrocchi to trial in India have failed, it is because own goals were deliberately and repeatedly scored. In a shocking act of collusion, the Narasimha Rao regime allowed him to slip out of the country in 1993. In December 2005, two of the Italian businessman's bank accounts in London were unfrozen thanks to an Indian Additional Solicitor General misinforming the Crown Prosecution Service in England that there was no evidence to link these deposits with the Bofors payoffs. This was after two British courts had upheld the freeze on the accounts. And why was Mr. Quattrocchi let off in Argentina after being detained in 2007? It surely had something to do with the fact that the CBI's extradition plea contained an invalid arrest warrant and failed to spell out the reasons why the accused should be extradited, as required by Argentinean law. The Argentinean court not only let him go but even ordered the CBI to pay his legal costs. By gifting Mr. Quattrocchi the freedom of travel he lacked for a decade, the Congress dispensation has shown it would spare no effort to bail out the man referred to as 'Q' in former Bofors chief Martin Ardbo's diary.

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Category Constitutional Law, Other Articles by - Raj Kumar Makkad