The Quattrocchi Factor

Revisiting ‘Bofors’ Deal

Chitra Subramaniam Duella

Ittalian accountant Ottavio Quattrocchi, who was paid a bribe of $7.2 million in the 1986 Bofors-India gun deal is no more. He was no ordinary commission agent operating in India. He was a gravy train close to Gandhi family.

Bofors was not about Q or R. Bofors was about the self-respect of a nation. It was about institutions in a democracy, the world's largest. It was about Indians defending India in extreme weather conditions while India slept.

The story is simple. India bought field howitzers from Sweden in 1986 for $1.2 billion. The guns were state of the art, the price competitive. An additional contract ensured that India would manufacture the guns, indigenously. Q (as leaked Bofors documents showed) walked into the deal at the 11th hour, asked for a 3% commission payable only when the deal was concluded by a date announced by him through his front company A E Services. He walked away a happy man, almost. So why would a Swedish armaments company pay an Italian in India working for Snamprogetti, an engineering arm of the Italian oil and gas firm Eni, for field howitzers? This is what Amitabha Pande (former joint secretary in-charge of the Bofors contract) posted on Facebook after Q transited.

Q, like Warren Anderson of Union Carbide, was allowed to bolt out of India. It was after this correspondent had filed the report linking him directly to the Bofors payments with evidence from Switzerland and Sweden and before the story appeared in print. Q had fled from a major Indian airport because Indians allowed Q to bolt, knowing well that he had cheated Indians. It was in a manner similar to how India had allowed Anderson safe passage, knowing well that he had blood on his hands after the Bhopal gas tragedy.

Packing the punch of Berlusconi and Raja math (in 21st century Italian and Indian political lingo), Q turned entire generations of Indian politicians and bureaucrats and expert lawyers and political commentators into doormats. He was the parrot-green elephant with a yellow trunk and bells on his two hind-feet in a pink room. Andy Warhol at the Thyagaraja music festival in Tanjore (Tamil Nadu) singing Yantaro Mahanubhava, if that helps. In addition to making a lot of money talking and arguing about him, people individually became prime ministers, governors, ambassadors and collectively let Indians down as they pretended to chase the Sicily-born Q from port to port. Q laughed all the way to the bank, something he had been doing in India for a long time.

Bribes to Q explain why when Swedish state radio reported on July 16, 1986 that Bofors had bribed Indians and others to take clinch the arms deal, then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi informed the Lok Sabha at the first opportunity that neither he, nor his family nor his friends had anything to do with the deal.

It is because of who Q was that India has dithered on Bofors for 27 years. It is because of Q's importance that in 2009 Indian law minister Hansraj Bharadwaj unblocked Q's accounts in London so that he could retrieve his bribe the tax on which was paid by the Indian taxpayer. It is because of who Q was that the Bofors case was closed in 2011 for want of evidence. It is because of who Q was that Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of the world's largest democracy said India should apologise to him for hounding an innocent man. A few months later the income-tax department sent him a bill for the bribes.

It is because of who Q was that George Fernandes, India's Minister of Defence during the NDA regime, told this correspondent that he had been told by National Security Adviser Brajesh Mishra "not to touch the Bofors file"—because of instructions from former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and deputy Prime Minister LK Advani. It is no secret that Vaypayee and Advani were very accommodating about Q and his friends in New Delhi. How else can one explain why the NDA government, in power from 1998 to 2004, couldn't arrest Q?

It is because of who Q was that every institution in India from the parliament to the judiciary to the executive was tarred with the same brush. It was because of who Q was that every head of India's premier investigating agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) developed half a spine after retirement.

It was because of Q that the CBI sleuths during their several trips to Sweden to get at the truth did not meet key Swedish investigators.

It was on the Q factor that every ambassador in Switzerland, Sweden and Italy was evaluated for their performance. One permanent representative to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland (PR) who was in weekly contact with Brajesh Mishra, lied to the Swiss about his interest in following the Bofors case. The official contact between India and Switzerland is through Bern, the Swiss capital. He had no business interfering in bilateral matters between two states. It is because of Q that none of this is in the public domain.

1997. Such was the detail of the money trail in the 350-odd leaked documents that the world's best lawyers in the world's toughest courts could not save the guilty among whom was Q. Such was the enormity and grandeur of the judgment in favour of India that Switzerland modified its laws for mutual assistance in criminal matters to third countries. Calling the decision "spectacular" as it had helped them plug holes in their own system, Swiss officials and lawmakers welcomed the Bofors-India ruling as proof that their country was not a haven for tainted money. Criminals could no longer delay or deny access to secret bank accounts. They could appeal only once at the federal level instead of numerous cantonal procedures and delays. The Marcos case from the Philippines and the Bofors case from India had rocked Switzerland in the 80s. The Marcos money was held under false names and codes and getting to the exact bank account numbers was not easy. Q was not bothered with such details - he was a blink away from the money. He knew he could buck India.

Neither the Swiss courts nor the Swedish investigators cared who Q was. For them, he was the political payment, the entity that comes in when all the numbers are on the table and walks way with a portion of the loot without any questions. For them, he was involved in a major criminal act against the Government of India.

Vol. 46, No. 8, Sep 1-7, 2013

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