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March 30, 1998

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Delhi high court tells CBI to explain NBW, red alert against Quattrocchi

George Iype in New Delhi

Two days after Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee won the confidence vote in the Lok Sabha, the 11-year old Bofors scandal is all set to boom once more.

The Delhi high court has directed the Central Bureau of Investigation to show cause as to why it issued a non-bailable arrest warrant and a red alert against Italian businessman and Snamprogetti agent Ottavio Quattrocchi in the Bofors kickbacks case.

A division bench consisting of Justices Devinder Gupta and N G Nandi directed the CBI to explain why the petition should not be admitted and adjourned the matter for further hearing on April 15.

Additional Sessions Judge Ajit Bharihoke had, on February 6, 1997, issued the NBW on an application from the CBI, and directed the investigating agency to execute the NBW by February 20. Subsequently, on February 17, the CBI sounded a red alert to all countries through Interpol, seeking Quattrocchi's arrest along with a general alert against his wife.

Senior counsel Dinesh Mathur, appearing for Quattrocchi, contended that the need for filing the petition arose as certain countries raised objections in giving Quattrocchi a visa since there was an alert against him.

He said the issuance of an NBW against a person for handing him over to the investigating agency was bad in law. The CBI application before the trial court neither mentioned the provisions under which the NBW was to be issued for handing him over to the probe agency, nor did it specify the offence under which Quattrocchi's arrest was sought.

Even the court granting an NBW did not mention the provision under which the order was passed, he contended.

CBI counsel R S Jamuar, who accepted the notice on behalf of his client, stated that issuance of warrants of arrest was inter-locatory to aid the investigation. An inter-locatory warrant cannot be challenged in any court.

In any case, if the extradition of Quattrocchi, who has been named by the CBI as one of the recipients of the $ 9.2 million kickback in the Bofors deal, was to be executed, the issuance of an NBW was important, he added.

He refuted Quattrocchi's stand that the alert was an infringement of his right of freedom, saying that the warrant was issued just to keep a watch on him.

The Snamprogetti agent, in his urgent nine-page petition, also mentioned the transfer of $ 9.2 million to Guernsey, in the Channel Islands.

Quoting from the CBI's application for issuing the NBW, Quattrocchi said the transfer of funds to the Inter Investment Development Company on May 21, 1990 was much after the registration of the FIR on January 21, 1990.

''This clearly states that on the date of the FIR, the alleged amount remained in a foreign country and in the hands of foreigners," the petition stated.

It also said the 1990 FIR had named 14 persons as accused in the Bofors case, and Quattrocchi's name did not figure in the list. The Bofors FIR described the accused as ''certain public servants of the government of India,'' the petition added.

Quattrocchi said despite the NBW being issued against him one year ago, they had been returned 'unexecuted' from Kuala Lumpur where he resided, for want of sufficient evidence.

Disputing Quattrocchi's contention, CBI spokesperson S M Khan said the agency will submit its arguments before the high court on April 15. "We have enough evidence to bring Quattrocchi to book," Khan told Rediff On The NeT.

Thus, with the Italian businessman readying himself to fight the CBI in Indian courts, one of the Bharatiya Janata Party government's first decisions will be to unravel the Bofors mystery.

Vajpayee has already announced that he wants the investigation into the Bofors kickbacks scandal to be completed and a follow-up action on the case to be taken soon. Sources said most of Vajpayee's 18-party partners in the government want the prime minister to table the Bofors report in Parliament.

The CBI special investigation team's report on the scandal submitted in May last year has been gathering dust in the Prime Minister's Office though it contains enough evidence to prove the criminal culpability of former external affairs minister Madhavsinh Solanki, former defence secretary S K Bhatnagar and former PMO official Gopi Arora.

The report has also named former prime minister and Congress president Rajiv Gandhi as one of the accused, although it fails to establish corruption charges against him.

Though Rajiv's widow Sonia launched the Congress election campaign two months back challenging the government to release the secret Bofors papers, many believe that if the report is tabled in Parliament it will create a political storm against the Congress party.

CBI officials say if the Vajpayee government releases the secret documents, it will prove embarrassing for the new Congress president. "The chain of circumstantial evidence with us proves that Rajiv Gandhi was at least involved in the government-orchestrated cover-up operation on Bofors," the CBI official told Rediff On The NeT.

CBI officials are confident that Sonia's public demand will boomerang on her as evidence with the agency clearly points to Quattrocchi's direct involvement in the Bofors corruption scandal.

A team of CBI official who visited Switzerland last fortnight to receive the second set of secret bank documents have reportedly made some headway on how and where the bribe money landed. The CBI's investigation has revealed that US $ 9.2 million had been transferred from the Geneva account of the Union Bank of Switzerland to the Inter Investment Development Co, a company allegedly promoted by Quattrocchi.

"The government's decision to bring the CBI under the home ministry's control is an indication that the BJP regime will give the green signal to unravel the Bofors scandal," a CBI official said.

Now that BJP president and Home Minister L K Advani is minister in charge of CBI, the Vajpayee government is set to act on one of the most sensational corruption scandals in the country.

Additional reportage: UNI

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