New Delhi, Sep 29 (IANS) The over two-decade-old Bofors pay-off case is headed for a quiet burial with the government Tuesday informing the Supreme Court that it had decided to stop all prosecution against Italian businessmen Ottavio Quattrocchi, an accused in the case relating to the alleged payment of Rs.640 million as commission in the howitzer deal.
Solicitor General Gopal Subramanium told a bench headed by Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishanan that all efforts to extradite Quattrocchi had failed.
He said the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) had taken the decision to close the case by also taking into account a Delhi High Court judgement of 2004 that had held that no case of corruption was made out in the Bofors deal.
Subramaniam's statement in the court came under attack from the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which criticised the ruling Congress party for easily letting the businessman off the hook.
"Quattrocchi has always had high connections and that's why he has always been safe," said BJP spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad.
"This is very unfortunate. Quattrocchi knew too much and he had people to save him," Prasad added
The Congress, on the other hand, said the case had never stood the test of law and the government's decision was the natural corollary.
"Bofors is a ghost or a phantom that the opposition brings up repeatedly for political purposes," Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari told reporters here.
"Whenever the matter went before a court of law either in India or abroad it never stood the test of law," he maintained, adding: "I think the matter should be brought to a close."
The case against Quattrocchi, known to be close to the late Rajiv Gandhi, who was prime minister in 1987 when the bribery scandal broke, and his wife Sonia, has taken tortuous twists and turns after he was named in a CBI chargesheet in 1999 as the conduit for the Bofors bribe.
He was accused by the CBI of receiving millions of dollars in commissions for helping to fix the $1.4 billion gun deal in the mid-1980s.
CBI officials privately admitted that it was merely a question of time before the government decided to stop all prosecution against Quattrocchi for his alleged involvement in the case, especially after the agency decided to strike off his name from its list of wanted persons in April.
"It's taken longer than usual but this was the inevitable step," said a senior CBI official.
The 12-year Interpol Red Corner Notice, or lookout notice, against Quattrocchi was taken off from the wanted section of the agency's website reportedly on the legal advice of Attorney General Milon Banerjee last year.
According to Banerjee, the investigating agency did not have any basis to keep Quattrocchi's name listed in the Interpol Red Corner Notice especially when it lost the case for his extradition from Argentina in February 2007.
Till date Quattrocchi has managed to evade interrogation.
The nearest the CBI came to him was in February 2007 when Quattrocchi was detained in Argentina on the basis of an Interpol warrant.
But the CBI took time in translating documents that were to be presented in the designated court there and also put up a half-hearted effort towards his extradition. It finally lost the case for his extradition four months later.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh himself has said that the case had proved to be an "embarrassment" for the government.
"The Quattrocchi case is an embarrassment for the government of India. We have tried to extradite him from Malaysia. We have tried to extradite him from Argentina. We have failed. The court says we do not have a strong case," Manmohan Singh had said during the midst of the general elections in April.