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Capital Buzz/Virendra Kapoor

Bofors, a Gandhi trust and Quattorochhi

The long-running saga of sleaze in Indian politics will be with us for some more time. Even as scams far bigger than Bofors in terms of monies stolen from the people -- the Rs 50 billion securities scam, for instance -- were buried rather prematurely a million fathoms deep thanks to the failure of the nation's watchdogs, a new line of investigation is beginning to trace the ultimate recipients of the Bofors loot.

It is now certain that Ottavio Quattorochhi, the Italian businessman who wielded immense clout in the corridors of power during the regimes of Indira and Rajiv Gandhi, transferred a substantial part of the money from his secret Swiss account to a trust operated by the Gandhi family. Quattorochhi, it may be recalled, was stationed in New Delhi for several years as the representative of the Italian industrial conglomerate, Snamprogetti. While in India he swung many deals for his principals besides acting as a high-priced freelance `fixer' in the capital.

Once it became known that he was one of the petitioners in a Swiss court opposing the transfer of secret documents to the Indian government, Quattorochhi was allowed by the P V Narasimha Rao government to flee this country. The Central Bureau of Investigation has tracked down a Gandhi trust, which was floated several years ago with the assistance of a well-known firm of solicitors. But the CBI is treading gingerly in its investigation about the movement of funds from the Quattorochhi account given the extreme sensitivity of the Congress party in the matter.

Working at cross purposes

More often than not the right hand of the government does not know what its left hand is doing. The case in point is the re-modelling and modernisation of the Hazrat Nizamuddin railway station in the capital.

Due to the increased number of trains starting and terminating at the station, a couple of years ago a plan was devised to cut it off from the Nizamuddin east residential colony. To facilitate an easy flow of station-related traffic as also to protect the historic monuments in its vicinity from increased vehicular pollution, the plan envisaged the demolition of a large number of houses of railway employees, including the bungalow of the station master himself. All this was duly done.

The Delhi Development Authority and the railways spent tens of millions of rupees to implement the plan. A new bridge to widen the bara pulia, the historic bridge built during Sher Shah Suri's time, was sanctioned. A high wall cutting off the Nizamuddin colony from the station was erected. But the very purpose of the original plan was defeated when a huge gap in the wall was left wide open so that the station traffic could walk straight into the colony.

Recently when the matter came up before the Delhi high court on a public interest petition, it was revealed that the railways wanted the gap in the wall closed whereas the DDA wanted it to stay. The reason: the shopkeepers in front of the station had got on to the DDA to defeat the plan. The Prime Minister's Office is now investigating what led the DDA to take such a contrary stand.

The tainted trio

There is much speculation in the higher echelons of the bureaucracy about the identity of the three central ministers who were reported to be raking in the moolah by dispensing official patronage. Union Cabinet Secretary T S R Subramaniam is said to have briefed the prime minister recently about the functioning of these ministers.

A couple of months ago when Subramaniam was appointed Cabinet secretary he was specifically asked by H D Deve Gowda to be his 'eyes and ears' He was expected to bring to the prime minister's knowledge any hanky-panky in his government. Subramaniam gathered the information through the usual bureaucratic channels but was careful in passing to Deve Gowda only a sanitised version.

These ministers, he told the prime minister, were said to be collecting funds for their party and he hoped they were authorised to do so. Deve Gowda in turn is said to have spoken to the concerned ministers. The identity of the trio is still a mystery though in all speculation Chand Mahal Ibrahim, the minster for civil aviation and information and broadcasting, invariably figures. Any guesses about the other two names?

'Farmers' in trouble

The capital's millionaires are in a tizzy due to the determination of an honest income tax official to do his duty without fear. Senior income tax officer Amitabh Shukla, whose pregnant wife and domestic servant were attacked at his home last month, has been personally surveying the opulent farmhouses in the Mehrauli-Chattarpur complex in South Delhi.

Given their plush interiors what with marble and granite floorings and expensive fittings and with swimming pools to boot, Shukla has been trying to locate the real owners of these weekend retreats of the capital's rich and the famous. And sending the benami owners a show cause notice to explain their source of wealth.

While the going rate per acre in the area is close to Rs 10 million, invariably the sale registration is done at less than Rs 100,000 an acre. Shukla has spent many fruitful days talking to the workers at these farmhouses to get at the amount of unaccounted money sunk in there.

Amaraswamy at it again

He had owed his job to the capital's number one fixer, Amar Singh, the liaison man- turned- member of Parliament. And he has lost it too due to Amar Singh. Govind Mishra became chairman of the Central Board of Direct Taxes a couple of months ago thanks to Singh's patronage.

Singh had hoped that Mishra would be grateful enough to do his bidding and save his friends from the revenue sleuths while 'fixing' those who had incurred his wrath.

But given the new mood of transparency generated by judicial activism, the revenue sleuths recently raided the bigwigs of Bombay's film industry. Among them happened to be the Amitabh Bachchan Corporation Limited. and the raid on ABCL proved to be Mishra's undoing. For Amitabh relies on Singh to bail him out of trouble from all government agencies. This time when Singh wanted the raid on ABCL called off and the IT official in Bombay, who sanctioned it penalised, Mishra pleaded helplessness. He couldn't intervene without inviting the wrath of the entire department, Mishra told Singh. In that case, you must go, Mishra was told. And he went.

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