statesman news service
NEW DELHI, 13 JULY: The controversial Italian businessman and a prime accused in the 1986 Bofors kickbacks scandal, Ottavio Quattrocchi, 74, has died. He reportedly died of a cardiac arrest in Milan last night.
Other accused in the Bofors scandal have also either died or been acquitted by the Delhi High Court.
In March 2011, a Delhi court had allowed the investigating agency CBI’s plea seeking withdrawal of prosecution against the fugitive Quattrocchi in the Bofors payoffs case.
Once considered close to the late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s family, Quattrocchi was alleged to have played the role of a middleman in the supply of Swedish Bofors Howitzer guns to India, a 1986 contract worth Rs 1,600 crore. In its Bofors charge-sheet filed in 1999, the CBI had named Quattrocchi, once the representative of an Italian firm in India, as one of the prime accused in the Rs 64-crore bribery case.
Quattrocchi had fled India in 1993 to escape standing trial in Indian courts in the Bofors case. The CBI tried to extradite him to face justice in India, but it lost its extradition bids in foreign courts twice ~ first time in Malaysia in 2002 and then in Argentina in 2007. While the Congress-led UPA was in power in New Delhi in 2007, the ruling dispensation in 2002 was the BJP-led NDA. The Bofors scandal had rocked the country in late 1980s and the Rajiv Gandhi-led ruling Congress had to face an electoral debacle in the 1989 Lok Sabha elections on this issue.
In recent years also, the Quattrocchi factor periodically kicked up a storm in India’s political circles, with the Congress president Mrs Sonia Gandhi’s family coming under attack from the Opposition parties, especially the BJP, whenever there was perceived to be any setback in the CBI’s bid to get hold of Quattrocchi. The CBI had registered a criminal case in 1990 to probe into the Bofors scam and the beneficiaries of its kickbacks.
Of the other Bofors accused, the agent Win Chadha and former defence secretary S K Bhatnagar have already passed away while the Hinduja brothers have been discharged by the courts.
Meanwhile, Quattrocchi’s death, which might now signal a closure of sorts in the Bofors scam, also sparked a heated exchange of words between the Congress and the BJP. Congress spokesman Abhishek Singhvi charged that Quattrocchi was a “ghost” created by the BJP. Mr Singhvi attacked the BJP for always seeking to drag Quattrocchi to “besmirch” the Congress and the Gandhi family’s name.