CBI to move application for withdrawal of Bofors case

The Central Bureau of Investigation will formally move an application before the Magistrates Court in Delhi on Saturday withdrawing the cases against Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi in the Bofors Gun Deal, the Union Law Minister has said.

"The Government has taken a decision for withdrawal of the cases and the Public Prosecutor, on behalf of the CBI, will move an application before the Magistrate's Court on October 3," , M Veerappa Moily told reporters. The Minister, who is here at the invitation of the British Government, said that since a PIL (Public Interest Litigation) was pending before the Supreme Court, the Solicitor General thought it fit that it should be brought to the notice of the Apex Court.

Moily, himself an eminent lawyer, pointed out that Justice J D Kapoor, Judge of the Delhi High Court on February 4, 2004, had quashed all charges under the Prevention of Corruption Act and Bribery under the Penal Code in the Bofors case. The judgment exonerated the late Rajiv Gandhi, former Prime Minister and S K Bhatnagar, the Defence Secretary during the period.

Judge Kapoor observed that the charges were "framed purely on the basis of irrelevant inferences, presumptions, surmises, conjectures and through riotous imagination by even introducing personal knowledge of facts which were not set up by the CBI little realizing that criminal trials cannot proceed nor can succeed on such premises without there being any material or evidence corroborating those inferences."

The Indian minister said if there would have been some evidence to pursue, "we would not have hesitated to pursue." Moily noted that the CBI has been pursuing the cases everywhere. "There is no point in pursuing this matter. There are no cases under Prevention of Corruption Act. "When there is no case under the Prevention of Corruption Act where is the question of criminality involved. No appeal was also filed. The judgement came during the NDA regime.

"The matter was taken up before the Argentinian Court and then before the Malaysian Court. Everywhere it failed. The Argentinian Court levied heavy cost on the Government for pursuing the case after so many years as the case has been pending since 1986," said Moily. The senior Congress leader said the final payment for the Bofors Gun Deal was made in 1990 when the V P Singh Government was in office. "If they had any doubt, why did they make the final payment," he asked.

He also noted that for major part of the period, the opposition parties were in power. "If they wanted to recover money, they should have filed a civil case "but it is time-barred as it had to be done within three years," Moily underlined. The Law Minister said "it is not a question of Quattrocchi or whoever". "We are not interested in defending anybody. The question is whether any worthwhile result will come out by pursuing the case," said Moily, who attended the formal inauguration of the Supreme Court of Great Britain on Wednesday. Hitherto the House of Lords used to function as the Apex Court.

Moily said the government had no intention "to keep it going" just for the false prestige or to oblige the Opposition. "According to professional advice, nothing is going to happen. We cannot keep it going just for the false prestige of Government or just to oblige the Opposition who want keep it alive. Any kind of oxygen cannot keep the body alive," the Law Minister said.

Moily noted that the case had damaged the "lives of so many people. Still you want to hunt the shadow. For what purpose.? How long you want to engage the CBI? If you engage CBI then it is for political purpose, not otherwise. Courts after courts have decided on the issue. "That is why the Attorney General in the previous Government said there is no case at all and there is no basis to continue it. The then Law Minister endorsed the view," he said.

After the UPA government came back to power, "we referred the issue to the Attorney General who also concluded that there is no basis for continuing the case. Again it was referred to the Solicitor General and the Department of Personnel and they also said there is no basis for continuing". He said after two Attorney Generals have said "there is no basis for pursuing the case and it is a fit case for withdrawal, the Government took the decision." Refuting BJP criticism against withdrawal of the case, Moily said BJP was in power for eight years but failed to make any headway.

Moily described the case as a "political agenda" and "an attempt at "character assassination". "I don't think CBI should be misused to make political gains for some political parties. You can't do that," he told reporters. He was firm that "there is no question of Government keeping quiet and not acting on the professional advice. That would be total misuse of CBI".

"Look at the tragedy of it. Fictitious case has been used as an instrument to malign the political leaders, abuse judicial system, abuse CBI to make extraneous political gain. I don't think it can happen anywhere except in India," he noted. The Minister said it was his agenda to dispose of cases expeditiously and not keep them pending for 25 years.

Answering questions, Moily said reports in the media that he was at loggerheads with the HRD Minister Kapil Sibal were baseless. "He wants to bring law subjects at the graduate level and he wants to bring reform and there is nothing wrong with it. Any reform, we will do together," he said. Noting that Sibal spoke to him from Chennai on Tuesday, Moily said "we are not working at cross purpose. We are working together. There is no misunderstanding at all."

He said the Law Ministry planned to bring about a lot of improvement in criminal justice system in the country. He said the Fast Track system has proved a boon and it would be continued. "We want to ensure that guilty is punished and innocent is freed quickly." During the last two days, Moily had a series of meetings with the Law Society of Great Britain, Judicial Studies Board and Baroness Usha Prashar, NRI Chair of the Judicial appointments committee. He also met young Indian lawyers based in the UK.

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