Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Bofors and Quattrocchi:

This one appeared in the New Indian Express (April 30, 2009)

Ottavio Quattrocchi, according to the CBI, is innocent. The Bofors scandal, according to the Congress party’s Crown Prince Rahul Gandhi, was a ``complete lie’’ that the opposition used for 20 years. Well. The truth, even according to official documents and the records in the CBI’s possession, conveys another story. Even if it be that the Interpol will not detain Quattrocchi hereafter and the Italian may land in New Delhi once again, it is worth telling the Bofors story once again. The truth, after all, has to be told.

The Bofors story begins sometimes in 1984. The Indian Army began looking for a field gun to neutralize the fleet of F-16 fighters that Pakistan had acquired from the US. A committee under the then Defence Secretary, S.K.Bhatnagar shortlisted Bofors (from Sweden) and Sofma (from France) for the purpose. The army then followed the necessary procedures and elected Bofors the winner. The Swedish gun would ‘shoot-and-scoot’ (it could be moved after it had fired) while the French gun, Sofma, would not do that.

Negotiations began on December 13, 1985 and concluded on March 23, 1986; the Rajiv Gandhi government took just 24 hours to endorse that recommendation and the contract to supply 400 of the 155 mm Howitzer guns was finalised. Nobody cared to wonder over the efficiency with which the Government worked to clinch the deal in such pace. The fact is that the deal would have remained in limbo for several months if it was not clinched before March 31, 1986. The rules are that the budgetary allocations would lapse if they are not spent before the end of the fiscal year.

But then, on April 16, 1987, a Swedish National Radio broadcast revealed that Bofors had paid bribes to secure the contract. On April 20, 1987, Rajiv Gandhi declared in Parliament that the Bofors deal did not involve any middlemen and that there was no kickback paid. The opposition parties protested and Rajiv Gandhi agreed to set up a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) to look into the allegations. The opposition parties refused to join the committee. After extensive travel to army bases, evaluating the Bofors gun (on which the MPs hardly had an expertise) and a visit to Sweden to meet with the Bofors officials, the JPC gave a clean chit to the Government, the gun manufacturer and the gun itself in its report, presented before Parliament on April 26, 1988.

The truth, however, was brought out by the media even while the JPC was carrying out the cover-up job. And one such explosive revelation came from the diary maintained by Martin Ardbo, President of Bofors at the time of the deal.

Facsimile prints of Martin Ardbo’s entries in his diary were now in the public domain. Although Ardbo used codes, they were not all complicated. One such noting was about a meeting with a ``Gandhi trustee lawyer’’ to finalise details of the cover-up and that he no longer cared about ‘the consequences for N’ (obviously a reference to Arun Nehru, now out of the Congress party) but ‘Q’s involvement could be a problem because of closeness to R’’. Ardbo’s diary was picked up by the Swedish police, presented as evidence in the courts, to prosecute the Bofors executive. The prosecution was on in connection with illegal export of arms to Iran and was launched in April 1988.

If R was Rajiv, then Q had to be somebody who was close to him. It was clear then, that Q was Ottavio Quatrocchi, the Delhi representative of Snamprogetti, the Italian multinational, whose friendship with Rajiv had been a subject of controversy even otherwise. It was possible to establish the Quattrocchi connection to the Bofors story even for the JPC. The committee knew that Bofors had its agents in India and that money was paid by the company to them as part of the Howitzer deal. The JPC was told by Bofors that the company had terminated the agreements with Pitco and Svenska (belonging to Win Chaddha) after the government asked it to sack its agents. As for the payments made to these agents, who were not to be involved according to the terms of the contract, Bofors explained them as winding-up charges for terminating the contract.

There was a third agent called AE Services after Bofors had terminated the arrangements with Pitco and Svenska. And Bofors had told the JPC that it was an oversight. The company’s officers had forgotten that there was no scope for agents in the contract and for obvious reasons the JPC swallowed the story despite coming to know about the specific terms with AE Services: It was entitled for a commission only if the contract was signed before March 31, 1986. It so happened that the deal was pushed through just before the deadline expired.

While Pitco belonged to the Hindujas and Svenska to Win Chadha, AE Services remained a mystery. The gun manufacturer explained that it was a British firm headquartered in Guildford, Surrey, owned and promoted by a Major Bob Wilson. The JPC bought that too. It was discovered, later, that AE Services had no office. The address was of a post-box in a solicitor’s firm. The total capital of the company was £100 divided into a hundred shares of one pound each. Major Wilson owned one share. The rest were owned by a shadowy Leichtenstein corporation.

However, on July 23, 1993, the Swiss Cantonal Court revealed that AE Services was a shell company operated by Colbar Investments, incorporated in the Panama Islands and that it was controlled by Ottavio Quattrocchi and his wife Maria Quottrocchi. In other words, of the Rs. 64 Crores paid into the three coded accounts by Bofors, 73 lakh US Dollars (Rs. 18.7 Crores) went into Quattrocchi’s account in the Nordfinanz Bank in Zurich. The deposit was made on September 3, 1986. The `Q’ in Ardbo’s diary was none other than Ottavio Quattrocchi. Bofors engaged him to help them swing the gun deal and clinch it before March 31, 1986 and he was paid 73 lakh US Dollars for the service he rendered. Most of the funds were transferred to the Union Bank of Switzerland, Geneva into the account of Colbar Invesment and moved out of that account too (within a couple of months) to yet another bank in the British Channel Islands.

The CBI’s chargesheet, implicating Quattrocchi (along with others) filed on October 22, 1999, spoke about an amount of SEK 540,63,966 (approximately US dollars 73 lakh) having been paid by M/s Bofors to M/s A.E. Services Limited, UK. It also said that investigation into the account showed that 97 per cent of this amount was transferred to the account of Colbar Investment Limited, Panama, controlled by Ottavio Quattrocchi in the Union Bank of Switzerland, Geneva. The chargesheet also said that Ottavio Quottrocchi had been transferring the said funds from one account to another account and from one jurisdiction to another to avoid detection.

The Red Corner Notice by the Interpol was obtained on all these grounds by the CBI. And the CBI now says that Quattrocchi is innocent.


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