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CBI bites Quattrocchi dust, again

New Delhi, June 9: India today failed again to bring Bofors accused Ottavio Quattrocchi to stand trial in the country after an Argentine court turned down the plea to extradite him in the 20-year-old case.

Judge Harichi Doi of the first court in El Dorado, however, told the Italian businessman to remain in Argentina till June 18, by when India can file an appeal in the supreme court in Buenos Aires.

The CBI said it would study the reasons behind the decision when it gets the detailed judgment on June 13 before challenging the verdict.

“We need to study the order before chalking out the future course of action,” CBI director Vijay Shankar, now away in in the US, said while expressing confidence that the investigating agency would be able to prepare its case within the stipulated time.

“We still don’t know the entire grounds for the decision,” said Miguel Almeyra, the lawyer who represented India, after the ruling in the north Argentine town. “India will appeal this decision because it thinks Mr Quattrocchi should face trial in Indian courts for once and for all.”

This is not the first time that the CBI has failed to get Quattrocchi, the last remaining accused in the gun-deal case, extradited to India. Five years ago, a Malaysian court had rejected Delhi’s request on the ground that the case against the 68-year-old businessman, accused of taking bribes as a middleman for swinging the deal in favour of the Swedish arms company, was politically motivated.

Sources said the main reason for the CBI’s defeat was that Quattrocchi’s lawyer was able to drive home the point that the case against his client, once known to be close to Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, was politically motivated.

Quattrocchi’s lawyer Alejandro Freeland said his client’s relationship with the Gandhi family was not a secret. “It has always been recognised and India’s insistence against Quattrocchi is only due to this relationship.”

The sources also cited Delhi High Court’s decision to drop charges of bribery and corruption against Quattrocchi and other accused in the case, including the billionaire Hinduja brothers.

Another reason, the sources said, was that the CBI’s investigation into the alleged payoff was incomplete. The agency had told British authorities last year it had no evidence to link money parked in Quattrocchi’s bank accounts in London with the kickbacks in the gun deal.

The sources said it is difficult to seek extradition of a person against whom investigation is incomplete.

Quattrocchi, who was detained in Argentina in February on an Interpol warrant but released on bail on the condition that he would not leave the country, said he was “confident” that he would get justice. “I have been persecuted for 20 years…. But I am still happy.”

“We have worked really hard,” Freeland said. “We were always confident because India did not have any case.”

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