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Dutta went to London on CBI's direction

By Onkar Singh in New Delhi
Last updated on: January 16, 2006 19:13 IST
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The Central Bureau of Investigation claimed at a press conference that B Dutta, additional solicitor general, had been sent to London by the agency.

The conference follows a Supreme Court order that the status quo ante be maintained in the Bofors payoff case and the government take immediate steps to ensure that Ottavio Quattrochi, an accused in the case, does not withdraw money from his two London accounts. The accounts were defrozen by Britain's Crown Prosecution Service on January 10.

"We have taken note of several news stories in the media and we want to clarify certain matters," said A K Majumdar, joint director of CBI, at the hurriedly-called press conference.

He read out a four-and-a-half-page statement to clarify the legal position of the agency and said that Dutta had been sent to discuss some legal angles with the Crown Prosecution Service who had been pressing for evidence against Quattrochi's two frozen accounts in London.

"It was the Crown Prosecution Service which intimated us about the two accounts in 2003. It was at our request that it was frozen. They asked us if we had any evidence to prove that the linkage between the payoffs and the money in the two accounts. The CBI could not link the two," he said.

Interestingly, CBI got in touch with the Crown Prosecution Service minutes after the apex court order on Monday and asked them if the money in the two accounts is still there.

"So far we have not heard from them but we have intimated them about the directive of the Supreme Court," he said.

Time and again, the CBI official denied that it was under pressure from Union Law Minister H R Bhardwaj and that it was taking the blame to protect the minister.

Majumdar admitted that it was Dutta who had opined that Quattrochi could not be declared proclaimed offender in June 2005 when Crown Prosecution Service asked them if the CBI could do so as it would help them in justifying freezing the accounts.

Though the CBI sent a law officer to London last December to meet officials of the CPS it did not inform the trial court (which is trying the Bofors case) about the move. "The case is still pending and we will do everything to extradite Quattrochi to stand trial in this case," Majumdar said.

He parried questions relating to Dutta's and Bhardwaj's role in defreezing the accounts. He insisted that Dutta had not exceeded his brief.

Complete coverage: Bofors, the smoking gun

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Onkar Singh in New Delhi