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Just who is Ottavio Quattrocchi?

By George Iype
Last updated on: January 17, 2006 21:21 IST
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The shadow of the gun once again looms large over the Indian political scenario, nearly two decades after the Bofors scandal first rocked India in general and the Congress in particular.

Recently, the United Progressive Alliance government wrote to the Swiss and British governments that it has no evidence against Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi, one of the main accused in India's most long-running bribe scam in a defence purchase.

Thus, B Datta, additional solicitor general of India, officially requested the foreign governments to allow Quattrocchi access to his frozen bank accounts. The high court in London ordered the 'defreezing' of Quattrocchi's two British bank accounts.

On Monday, India's Supreme Court directed the Indian government to take steps to maintain the status quo and ensure the frozen accounts are not unlocked.

But Britain's Crown Prosecution said on Tuesday that banks in that country were not bound by the Indian Supreme Court's direction that Quattrocchi should not withdraw money from his accounts in London.

Here is a primer on the controversial foreign businessman:

Just who is this guy?

Ottavio Quattrocchi was the India representative of Snamprogetti, a Milan-based Italian multinational company involved in engineering and construction projects.

Quattrocchi was Snamprogetti's Asia representative for 16 years, till the late 1980s.

It is said that during his tenure, he won as many as 60 projects worth Rs 300 billion from across Asian countries for Snamprogetti.

Sheela Bhatt: This is not about Bofors

How is he linked to the Bofors guns scandal?

The scandal erupted in 1987 when Swedish radio revealed that Bofors -- facing stiff international competition -- had paid more than $50 million in bribes to secure a contract for the sale of field guns worth $1.4 billion to the Indian Army.

Then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi was named one of the suspects in the scam.

Other suspects in the scandal included Quattrocchi, an Indian arms agent called Win Chadha and Martin Ardbo, the Bofors chief.

How could an Italian businessman be the middleman between the Indian Army and Bofors, which is a Swedish company?

The answer lies in Quattrocchi's proximity to the Gandhi family. It is said he became close to the Gandhi family because Sonia Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi's wife and now the Congress party president, hails from Italy.

Quattrocchi shifted to India soon after Rajiv married Sonia.

But was he politically so well connected in India to be part of a defence deal?

It is alleged Quattrocchi was so influential with the office of the prime minister -- Rajiv Gandhi -- that bureaucrats used to stand up when Quattrocchi visited them.

It is also alleged he could get ministers and bureaucrats sacked if they snubbed or challenged his authority.

Did the Central Bureau of Investigation dig up proof of Quattrocchi's involvement in the Bofors scandal?

The CBI's Bofors chargesheet against Quattrocchi claimed he was one of the beneficiaries of the bank accounts into which kickbacks in the Bofors deal were deposited.

The CBI said AE Services, a firm owned by Quattrocchi and his wife Maria, had received illegal payments to the tune of $7 million from the Swedish arms manufacturer.

CBI can question me: Quattrocchi

If Quattrochi was in India, why wasn't he arrested?

When the Swiss authorities formally communicated to the Indian government in 1993 that the kickbacks in the Bofors case were deposited in Quattrocchi's accounts, a Congress government -- headed by P V Narasimha Rao -- was in power. The Opposition immediately wanted the government to impound Quattrocchi's passport and arrest him. But that was not done, and he was allowed to leave the country.

Where did he flee?

He left India for Malaysia on July 29, 1993. This forced the CBI to ask the Malaysian authorities and go through the elaborate legal requirements of that country in order to get Quattrocchi to face trial.

The CBI's efforts to get Quattrocchi extradited to India have not yet succeeded.

The Interpol too wanted Quattrocchi. The international agency's notice on him said: 'Quattrocchi and his wife were involved in fraud and bribery committed in India between 1982-1987. A percentage of the money paid by the Indian government was illegally transferred by the AB Bofors Company to bank accounts in Switzerland, to the benefit of certain Indian public servants and their nominees.'

Does the Manmhohan Singh government's 'clean chit' to Quattrocchi absolve him of all charges?

Yes, in a way. Prime Minister Singh said the action of defreezing Quattrocchi's London bank accounts was taken by the CBI in consultation with law officers.

What does the man himself have to say?

In a statement issued from Milan in Italy this week, Quattrocchi said: 'I believe it would be in interest of justice and India's reputation if this case against me is brought to an end.'

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George Iype