Finally putting the lid on the Bofors kickbacks case that had led to the defeat of the Congress party in the 1989 polls, the Congress-led UPA government on Tuesday informed the Supreme Court that it had decided to withdraw all cases against Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi, the key accused in the armaments scandal.
The decision to stop proceedings against Quattrocchi, accused of taking bribes from the Swedish gun manufacturer to facilitate the sale of the Bofors howitzers to India in 1986, was not unexpected, as the 12-year-old 'red corner notice' against the Italian businessman was withdrawn last year.
"The red corner notice against Ottavio Quattrocchi was withdrawn a year ago. There is not a shred of evidence in the case to keep prolonging proceedings in the trial court. We have decided to withdraw all prosecution and close the case," solicitor general Gopal Subramaniam informed a bench comprising Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan and Justices P Sathasivam and B S Chauhan. He indicated that a closure report would be filed in the court of the chief metropolitan magistrate on 3 October when the case comes up for hearing.
"The CBI pursued the case because of the pendency of the red corner notice, which was withdrawn on November 25, 2008. We will pursue the case if any new evidence comes to light. But for the present, there is not even a vestige of evidence. Because of this we faced a reversal in getting Quattrocchi extradited, first from Malaysia and then from Argentina," Subramaniam told the Supreme Court.
The decision to give a burial to the Bofors case, in which the first information report was filed during the V P Singh regime in 1991 and the chargesheet during the NDA government's reign in 1999, was taken by the UPA government three days ago on the basis of a fresh opinion given by attorney general G E Vahanvati.
A closure of the case had looked imminent since the previous UPA government allowed Quattrocchi to withdraw his money – allegedly his share of the Bofors kickbacks – from accounts with a bank in London. It did not press hard for his extradition from Argentina, and subsequently told Interpol that he was no longer wanted in India.