Dec. 13: The Bofors case bled from another hit in quick succession with a Malaysian high court rejecting India’s request to extradite Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi.
The refusal to hand over Quattrocchi marks a humiliating defeat for the Union government, which has failed to send anyone to jail in the scandal that has dogged the political landscape for well over a decade.
“The offences alleged are open to doubt,” the Malaysian court said, setting Quattrocchi free after dealing the biggest blow yet to two years of extradition proceedings.
The CBI said it was “distressed” by the high court verdict and had asked Malaysian prosecutors, who were arguing New Delhi’s case, to appeal against the ruling in Malaysia’s highest court.
Quattrocchi, friend of assassinated former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and resident in Malaysia since the early 1990s, had been accused of receiving $7 million in illegal payments as a middle-man in the purchase of artillery from Swedish arms maker Bofors AB in 1986.
“I’ve never done anything wrong. Now, of course, I feel more relieved,” Quattrocchi told reporters. Quattrocchi, 64, said he would be visiting an ailing brother-in-law in China and his children in Italy before returning to Malaysia. “That is the plan,” he said. “I love this place.”
CBI director P.C. Sharma said the Malaysian courts had not given India a “complete hearing” and New Delhi would seek to stop Quattrocchi from being allowed to leave Malaysia until a higher court heard the appeal. “We feel this is some kind of a summary decision taken. The full facts have not been gone into... a complete hearing was not given,” Sharma said.
The Bofors trial in the Supreme Court has also been stalled last week as an appeal regarding charges against the Hinduja brothers, another group of accused, is pending before a bench.
The latest blow to the CBI came on an appeal it had filed against a Kuala Lumpur sessions court order dismissing charges against Quattrocchi last week.
Judge Augustine Paul of the Kuala Lumpur High Court said the charges against Quattrocchi should have been laid before the sessions court when it was hearing the extradition petition.
The lower court had thrown out the case on the ground that the descriptions of the offences in the requisition papers were “insufficient, vague and ambiguous”. Upholding the lower court ruling, Paul said: “It is my view that the failure to supply the (sessions) court and the respondent with the charges is fatal. Therefore, I uphold the sessions court verdict and discharge this application.”
“The offences alleged are open to doubt,” added the judge. “It will not serve its purpose if a party is left guessing... from pages and pages of documents that have been supplied.”
Malaysian deputy public prosecutor Kamarul Hisham Kamaruddin, who argued India’s case, said there was no restraint on Quattrocchi. “He’s a free man,” he said. “We have no court order to say he should be held.”
CBI spokesman G. Mohanty said in New Delhi: “The decision has not come to us as a surprise. We will now appeal against this order in the Court of Appeal, which is the highest Malaysian judicial body.”
The agency had sent a two-member team to Kuala Lumpur after the sessions court order.
But the high court denied permission for an Indian lawyer to fight for Quattrocchi’s extradition.
Quattrocchi has been wanted in India ever since he was charged by the CBI with criminal conspiracy and cheating to secure the huge order for howitzer field guns for the army from Sweden’s AB Bofors, which has since been renamed Kartongen Kemi Och Farvaltning AB.
Quattrocchi, who was arrested in December 2000 in Kuala Lumpur, was based in New Delhi in the 1980s as a representative of the Italian company Snamprogetti.