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A two-member CBI team on Wednesday left for Buenos Aires to present the request for extradition of Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi. Argentinean authorities meanwhileÂ have impounded Ottavio Quattrocchi’s passport after releasing him on bail.Â A Delhi court has issued an open non-bailable warrant (NBW) against him on Tuesday in connection with the Bofors case. The main Opposition BJP on rejected the government’s statement on Ottavio Quattrocchi, insisting it carries no mention of why the government delayed going public with the news of his detention. Contrary to speculation that a high-level team would go to Argentina to seek extradition the CBI has apparently sent a junior official. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Tuesday affirmed that the ‘government had done nothing wrong’ in its handling of the issue and that the CBI had full freedom.
The Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi, is wanted in India in a kickback scandal involving a $1.3 billion deal for Bofors guns from Sweden. Offstumped examines the political fallout from the alleged delay in going public with the Quattrocchi detention.
But before we getting into it Offstumped did some research into the Italian roots of the last name Quattrocchi.
Offstumped was pleasantly surprised at how “colorful” the Quattrocchi last name was in Italy. One QuattrocchiÂ however turned out to be of particular interest – an Angelo Quattrocchi, aged 27 in 1972 who lead the Italian Hippie Party into Parliamentary election and stood for acid rock, free sex, abortion and legalized marijuana. Then comes this news from Sicily in October of 1984 of the slaying of 8 members of a Quattrocchi family in Palermo with alleged mafia links. The best known of the victims was Cosimo Quattrocchi, 38, long sought on charges of criminal association, illegal possession of arms, sexual violence.
This brings us to the present. Ottavio Quattrocchi was the India representative of Snamprogetti, a Milan-based Italian multinational company involved in engineering and construction project. The Hindu in a December 2000 chronicling the Bofors Trail on the eve of Ottavio Quattrochi’s arrest in Malaysia recounts how the Italian got involved in the alleged gun scandal. The origins of Quattrocchi’s involvement lie in a July 1993 action by a Swiss Court when it released the names of 7 appellants who had appealed to the Swiss Court against transmitting the bank documents pertaining to the Bofors payoffs to the Indian Government. The list included Mr. Quattrocchi and his wife, Ms. Maria Quattrocchi. Mr. Quattrocchi The Hindu reported had diverted all the $ 7 millions credited into his coded Swiss Bank accounts by AB Bofors Inc. first to the Channel Islands and to two separate accounts in Geneva and Vienna from there. The real evidence against Quattrocchi surfaced in June 2003, when Interpol revealed two bank accounts, 5A5151516M and 5A5151516L, held by Quattrocchi and his wife Maria with the BSI AG bank, London, that contained Euros 3 million and $1 million. It was these accounts which were the center of political controversy last year when the accounts were released after a request by B. Dutta, additional solicitor general of India.
What does Quattrocchi himself have to say about all this. On the eve of his accounts being defreezed Quattrocchi claimed he was a victim of political vendetta and that he was proud to have contributed to the industrial development in India and that 4 of his children were concieved in India and 3 were born in India.
What does Sonia have to say about Mr. Q ?
Nothing much really. The Sphinx silence extends to this as well. The most audacious Sonia got on this issue was during the election campaign in 1998 when she dared the government to go public with the names of those who got payoffs in the Bofors deal. Coming to Sonia’s defence was a former CBI Director R.C. Sharma who was accused by The Hindu/Frontline MagazineÂ of being a Sonia Loyalist and offering the argument that the mere fact that Bofors paid Q money was no evidence to link Q to the India Howitzer deal and any associated payoffs.
This brings us to the present time and the following questions:-
1. When did the Government learn from Interpol of Q’s detention and why did it go silent ?
2. Why the apparent confusion in the Government on the extradition treaty with Argentina ?
3. Why is that a junior official is being sent to deal with the extradition when persons no less than the Addl Solicitor General and the Law Minister got involved to defreeze Q’s accounts in 2006 ?
Troubling questions for any government already on the defensive on the political and economic fronts. However the Opposition maybe overplaying its hand on the likely political benefits. Bofors is a dead issue politically. Unless it can be made out that defreezing of Q’s accounts and the silence on his extradition were explicitly at Sonia Gandhi’s behest targetting Sonia Gandhi personally would be a big mistake. Just like what happened with the Office of Profit Issue you will end up with a Sonia Gandhi taking the moral high ground and making it an issue of personal victimization.
Offstumped Bottomline: Sonia Gandhi is politically at her best when she makes it personal, she paints herself the victim and takes the moral high ground with a grand and unexpected gesture. The last thing the BJP needs right now is to cede the moral high ground willingly by making this personal without adequate evidence to back it up. Bofors as a political issue is dead. Best to leave the Q affair to the Supreme Court which has not disappointed us Indians on taking the UPA Government to task for blatant lapses. Targetting Sonia personally maybe good to score a few tactical points but might end up being bad strategy for the BJP.