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CBI’s London trail goes cold
- Nothing to bar Q’s access to bank

New Delhi, Jan. 15: The British legal system having issued the order to lift the freeze on Ottavio Quattrocchi’s accounts on Wednesday, it is likely that the Italian businessman has already taken out money he has been denied access to for years.

Till this evening, the CBI had no knowledge that Britain’s Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) had removed the restraining order on two of Quattrocchi’s accounts on January 11.

Reacting to a report in The Telegraph today about the freeze having been lifted on the two accounts in the Swiss bank, BSI AG, that hold $1 million and Euro 3 million, CBI spokesperson G. Mohanty said: “I am not aware of any such development.”

While it is surprising that an investigating agency does not have the information, there is very little the Indian government can do now if it were to try to have the process reversed.

Government sources, however, were claiming that efforts would be made to get another restraining order on Quattrocchi’s accounts and the CBI was committed to getting to the bottom of the Bofors scandal.

The CBI may, theoretically, crack the Bofors mystery some day, but chances of the government getting another restraining order on the accounts are remote.

Reports are that the CPS ' the agency which decides whether there is sufficient evidence to bring criminal charges against an individual or individuals ' was told by an Indian government representative of lack of evidence linking the money (over Rs 20 crore at current exchange rates) in the accounts to the alleged kickbacks in the Bofors deal.

The spokeswoman for the CPS had told The Telegraph: “We met the (Indian) additional solicitor-general (B. Dutta) in December. After the meeting, we corresponded with the court and the restraining order on Quattrocchi’s accounts has been removed.”

If India were, indeed, to pursue the case for re-imposing the restraint, it would have to present clinching evidence to the CPS after, presumably, having failed to provide any only last month.

There is, of course, also the possibility that Quattrocchi, whose money had remained frozen since July 2003, has left nothing in the accounts between Wednesday and today to freeze again.

“If this is indeed the case, the damage has already been done. The benefits of collusion have reached where they were supposed to,” said BJP general secretary Arun Jaitley.

Earlier in the day ' but too late nevertheless ' he had written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, urging him to prevent the lifting of the restraining order.

“The issue of concern to the entire country is now with regard to preventing the damage caused by the action of the law minister. The crown prosecutor in Britain would obviously act on the opinion given to him by the additional solicitor-general and these two bank accounts are likely to be de-frozen soon. Money would fly out of these two bank accounts to unknown destinations. This needs to be prevented immediately,” Jaitley said in the letter.

The BJP has stepped up the demand that law minister H.R. Bhardwaj be sacked and the Prime Minister explain how he was kept in the dark.

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