Ottavio Quattrocchi

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From the archives of The Times of India

Quattrocchi is dead. Is Bofors too?

Among Last Of The Remaining Accused, 73-Yr-Old Dies Of Heart Attack

July 14, 2013

Controversial Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi died of a heart attack on Saturday, perhaps taking with him crucial secrets of the Bofors howitzer scam that led to Rajiv Gandhi dramatically losing power in 1989 amid corruption allegations. The man who became infamous as “Q” managed to evade the law till the end, with the CBI finally withdrawing charges against him in 2011. Earlier in 2006, his bank accounts in London were defreezed after the Congress returned to power. The death of the 74-yearold Italian will almost certainly bring the curtains down over a scandal that shook politics in the late 80s and catapulted rebel Congress leader V P Singh as the PM on the back of an Opposition alliance that included both the BJP and the Left parties. According to news reports, Quattrocchi’s wife Maria confirmed the news of his death in Milan. Buried with him would also be questions surrounding the Bofors scandal: Who all received the kickbacks? Was the then PM Rajiv Gandhi in the know of what the Italian businessman was doing? Who were the shadowy figures whose support he enjoyed through the last several years? Now almost all accused in the Rs 64-crore kickback case are dead. Middleman Win Chadha and Bofors chairman Martin Ardbo are already dead. Industrialists Hindujas are also no longer accused in the case. The last time Quattrocchi came within the grasp of Indian agencies was when an Interpol red corner notice tripped him in Argentina in February, 2007. A tough vacation magistrate even sent him to custody but India failed to get him extradited. The red corner notice was subsequently withdrawn. It has been alleged that slackness in filing court documents allowed Quattrocchi to walk free after a six-month legal battle. He then claimed he had won every legal challenged posed by CBI in courts and blamed his “political friendships” for his troubles. In the 1980s, the Italian was seen as an influential man here, whose connections with the Gandhis granted him access to the power elites in the city. He slipped out of India in 1993 never to return and did not face trial in the cases filed against him. In 2003, the NDA government came close to extraditing him from Malaysia but a fortuitous weekend holiday is understood to have saved him. Quattrocchi’s name cropped up in documents in Sweden that claimed kickbacks were paid to several middlemen and others by Swedish firm Bofors for selling its 155 mm artillery guns to the Indian Army. The deal was signed on March 24, 1986, and a year later the Swedish radio alleged that at least Rs 64 crore was paid as kickbacks. Some estimates said the bribe was as much as Rs 120 crore. Among the key names that emerged as middlemen were Quattrocchi, then representing petrochemical firm Snamprogetti in India, the Hindujas, Win Chadha and others. The CBI filed its chargesheet in 1999 naming, among others, Quattrocchi. Rajiv Gandhi, who was assassinated in 1991, was among those charged. In 2003, it emerged that he and his wife Maria held two accounts in London worth several million euros. These were frozen on CBI demand, but mysteriously released by India’s Congress-led UPA government in 2006, prompting the opposition’s charge of scuttling the Bofors probe. On February 6, 2007, Quattrocchi was detained in Argentina on an Interpol warrant. The CBI was accused of a half-hearted attempt to extradite him. Finally, India lost the case in June 2007, with the local judge saying New Delhi did not even present proper legal documents. Quattrocchi’s death also brings to end the life of one of the most powerful middlemen India has seen. In the power corridors of 1980s’ India, Quattrocchi was a powerful presence. It was from behind the curtains that he manipulated government decisions, and it is from such dark corners middlemen continue to manipulate the Indian government.

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