The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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PM’s Bofors worries grow

New Delhi, Jan. 14: The Prime Minister and Sonia Gandhi led the UPA core committee into a huddle late this evening as the Supreme Court advanced a hearing on the latest controversy arising out of Bofors.

A petition, filed in the apex court, has challenged the law ministry’s statement to the British authorities that there is no evidence linking Ottavio Quattrocchi’s two London bank accounts with the gun-deal payoffs.

Sources said today’s meeting ' also attended by Sonia’s political secretary Ahmed Patel ' did not discuss law minister H.R. Bhardwaj’s resignation but assessed several worrying developments.

In tandem with the court move, the government’s legal experts have told it that the law ministry stand ' conveyed to the British by additional solicitor-general B. Dutta last month ' was “unacceptable and untenable”.

The ministry’s move was a response to the Crown Prosecution Service’s query on the status of the Bofors investigation.

“It’s the CBI that must explain if the situation has changed since July 2003 (when Quattrocchi’s accounts were frozen) and why,” a government source said. “There is no further evidence to suggest it has, so why should the ministry have asked the accounts to be de-frozen now'”

Government sources argued that the ministry’s justification of its stand by citing Delhi High Court judgments was “untenable”. The two judgments ' one in 2004 and the other in 2005 ' had given clean chits to Rajiv Gandhi and the Hinduja brothers but had left Quattrocchi out because he was “absconding”.

The sources said if the government took the line that the original request to freeze Quattrocchi’s accounts was “wrong”, the question would arise why the decision wasn’t revoked immediately instead of two years later.

Also, Dutta was sent to London after a new director, Vijay Shankar Tiwari, took charge of the CBI. This may be “purely coincidental”, but might yet strengthen the allegation of “political interference”, the legal experts felt.

The Centre’s embarrassment has been compounded by the CBI’s reported intention to carry on probing whether the money in Quattrocchi’s London accounts are linked to the Bofors payoffs. A CBI spokesman, quoted by agencies, said the sleuths till now have no “conclusive” evidence on this.

Rumours of the imminent resignations of Bhardwaj and the minister of state for personnel, Suresh Pachauri, swirled in the capital today. Bhardwaj had approached Pachauri with a letter from the Crown Prosecution and was asked to brief Dutta on its basis.

Congress sources denied the Prime Minister was “kept in the dark” and added that Bhardwaj had the powers to take such a decision and didn’t require cabinet consent.

Asked if Bhardwaj would be the fall guy, a source said: “Wait for the cabinet reshuffle.”

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