CBI's munificence

The Central government’s decision to withdraw the case against Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi may be the last nail in the coffin of the Bofors enquiry which has haunted the Congress for over two decades. Quattrocchi is the last surviving accused in the infamous kickbacks case, after three died and four others were exonerated. The history of the case is a story of cover-ups, government indifference and botched up investigations. Circumstantial evidence, unearthed by journalistic investigation, had indicated the involvement of Quattrocchi, who was close to the Nehru-Gandhi family, and others in the Rs 140-crore gun deal with the Bofors company in Sweden. Rajiv Gandhi was prime minister when the deal took place. Neither the explanations, often changing and contradictory, of successive Congress governments, nor different investigations, have been able to remove the doubts about the deal. A parliamentary committee did a whitewash job and the CBI never exerted itself to bring the culprits to book.

The CBI allowed Quattrocchi to escape from India when there was a case against him. It did not make any sincere effort to extradite him from Malaysia and Argentina. His account in a London bank was unfrozen in 2006 on the Indian government’s recommendation to the British authorities. The CBI requested Interpol to withdraw the red corner notice against him earlier this year. The series of dubious actions and lapses, both of omission and commission, against him on the part of the government and the CBI only show that there was a design to let him off the hook rather than to bring him to justice. The non-Congress governments also, which ruled the country for about a decade after the Bofors scandal broke out, were unable to bring out the truth and prosecute the guilty, though the NDA government was able to make some progress in the case in 1998. But the Congress contention that the case does not stand legal scrutiny cannot be accepted as there is confirmation of corruption and trails are available, though some of them have gone cold or been erased.

If Quattrocchi is not guilty, who is? It is the government’s responsibility to provide an answer. It is not for the government to declare an accused innocent. The courts should do it after investigation and trial. The indecent burial being given to the Bofors case will not lay to rest the ghost of the scandal which will pursue the Congress party and its leadership in times to come.

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