Thursday, January 06, 2011

The Bofors Story Will Continue to Haunt...

The Bofors scandal involving Ottavio Quattrocchi cannot be buried so easily. But then, since the story involves the Congress party’s most important family, it is unlikely that the order of the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal provokes the Congress party to stick to the zero-tolerence-to-corruption line extolled by Prince Rahul Gandhi at Burari. It may be that Quattrocchi did not share the money he got as kickback for the Bofors deal with Sonia Gandhi. But then, it is now a fact that has been proved so many times and in so many fora that Quattrochi got the money along with Win Chaddha and the Hindujas.

The ITAT order of December 31, 2010 was that having taken the money, which is admitted, the money will be treated as income and hence taxable. In other words, the order simply says that at least a part of the ill-gotten wealth can be recovered and put into the account of the government from Quattrocchi. And that money can then be spent on the personnel engaged in Operation Greenhunt or to pay up the prosecution lawyer who ensured a life term for Binayak Sen in the Raipur Court. Well. That money can also be spent on setting up a primary school in some remote village or a primary health centre somewhere or to construct a house to someone who sleeps on the pavement in any one of our cities.

That is not the core concern now. The issue is that the Government of India is now bound to take that money (a small percentage of the kickbacks that the Chaddas, the Hindujas and the Quattrocchis received into their secret accounts – Svenska, Pitco and AE Services -- in the Swiss Banks as Income Tax dues. And the CBI, meanwhile, is seeking closure of the case involving the illegal payoff and the criminality involved in it. In other words, one arm of the Government wants closure of the case while another has come to a decision that some money from them is due to the Government.

Look at the irony. The act of receiving the money from Bofors is blatantly illegal. Those who received the money, initially denied any receipt and once it was proved beyond doubt that the money was received by them and was deposited into their secret accounts in the Swiss Banks, one of them took a night flight to Malaysia from New Delhi. He was Ottavio Quattrochi, a friend of Sonia Gandhi and a regular guest at their home when Sonia Gandhi’s husband, Rajiv Gandhi was the Prime Minister. It makes sense to recall the Quattrocchi connection in the Bofors story as briefly as it is possible at this stage.

Among the coded accounts, Pitco belonged to the Hindujas and Svenska to Win Chadha. AE Services was first described by Bofors as a British firm headquartered in Guildford, Surrey, owned and promoted by a Major Bob Wilson. 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. It is likely that Rajiv Gandhi knew, even at that time, that the mysterious `Q’ in Martin Ardbo’s diary was Ottavio Quattrocchi, his family’s friend. And hence the then Prime Minister did not order investigation into the case.
But then, on July 23, 1993, it was revealed by the Swiss Courts 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. It was now clear that 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. It was now clear that the `Q’ mentioned in Ardbo’s diary was Ottavio Quattrocchi.

Quattrocchi represented Snam Progetti, an Italian firm involved in the setting up fertilizer plants, in India since 1964 and had become an influential player in Delhi after 1984. 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. Quattrocchi remained in India for several years after the scandal broke out in April 1987 and even after V.P.Singh became Prime Minister. He was trying to block the release of his bank papers by the Swiss Banks authorities. And when the Swiss courts confirmed, on July 23, 1993, that Quattrocchi was the man behind AE Services, the Italian national flew off to Malaysia from New Delhi on the night of July 29, 1993.

Well. The amount involved in the Bofors scandal was just small change when compared with the more recent scams. But then, we have all the evidence needed in that case and all that was collected by the CBI, in bits and pieces and at times when the Congress party was out of power. And every time the Congress returned to power, the CBI wanted to close down the investigation: Because one of those who made so much money happened to be a friend of Sonia Gandhi. And he prospered in India during the time Rajiv Gandhi was Prime Minister. He wielded a lot of power in Delhi because of his friendship with Sonia Gandhi!


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