Training its guns on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in the Bofors pay-offs scandal, the Bharatiya Janata Party on Tuesday demanded that he apologise for defending Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrochi.
"Mr PM, you tried to give a clean chit to Quattrocchi," BJP spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad told reporters, adding this has been found to be false by an income tax tribunal which said that kickbacks of Rs 41 crore were paid to Quattrocchi and Win Chaddha in the controversial Howitzer gun deal.
The principal opposition used Dr Singh's recent statement -- that Ceasar's wife should be above suspicion -- to attack him for defending Quattrochi.
"His comment exonerating Quattrochi has been found to be false by a competent tribunal. Would the prime minister now stand up to his own benchmark and apologise to the nation," Prasad asked.
Prasad referred to Dr Singh's remarks that, "It is not a good reflection on the Indian legal system that we harass people and that Quattrocchi case is an embarrassment for the government of India."
Taking on the prime minister, Prasad alleged that the Congress-led government believes in "first messing up the entire investigation" and then "saying there is no case". The BJP claimed that Quattrochi is very close to the Gandhi family and posed some questions to Dr Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi.
"When the United Progressive Alliance came to power, the then additional solicitor general B Dutta went to London in January 2006 and falsely represented before the authorities that no case is pending against Quattrocchi and the account be de-freezed. It was done accordingly and a huge amount of taxpayers' money was withdrawn. Under whose pressure was this done," Prasad said.
He alleged that 'collusive legal advise' for this was given under the supervision of then Law Minister Hansraj Bhardwaj. Every effort was made by the Congress to scuttle the investigations and save Quattrrochi, he said.
"A big powerful hidden hand was always available to bail Quattrochi out," Prasad said, in an apparent reference to the Gandhi family.
"The attorney general again gave a collusive advise that because the Delhi high court order has become final, therefore there is no point in continuing the Red Corner Nnotice against Quattrocchi," he said.
Prasad charged that this advice was given under pressure from the Gandhi family.
"All this clearly shows that the entire machinery of the government was trying to help him and bail him out at different stages. All this because he enjoyed high patronage owing to his proximity to the Gandhi family," he said.
The BJP insisted that in view of the tribunal's decision that Quattrochi and AE Services owner Win Chaddha had received kickbacks in the Bofors gun deal and evaded taxes on these pay-offs, the case should be re-opened and the matter be investigated by a Special Investigation Team.
"The prime minister and Sonia Gandhi both owe an explanation to the nation as to why this was allowed to happen," Prasad said.