Friday, September 7, 2007

Law Ministry let Quattrocchi walk, Minister signed OK

Law Ministry let Quattrocchi walk, Minister signed OK

RITU SARIN

Posted online: Thursday, September 06, 2007 at 0000 hrs IST

New Delhi, September 5, IIT was none other than the UPA Government’s Law Ministry and its Minister H R Bharadwaj who let Bofors-accused Ottavio Quattrocchi walk free by deciding not to appeal against the Argentine court order rejecting the CBI’s extradition request.

An investigation by The Indian Express has revealed that not only was this decision signed and approved by Bharadwaj, the CBI was constantly kept in the loop and was even given copies of the opinion several days before Quattrocchi got his passport back in Buenos Aires on August 15.

This contradicts the claims made by the Congress and the CBI the day after the Italian businessman’s release. “I am not aware of the appeal being either filed or withdrawn,” CBI chief Vijay Shankar told this newspaper. And Congress spokesman Abhishek Singhvi had then claimed that “the matter was settled between Argentine authorities, courts and the accused.”

Facts show otherwise.

After the CBI’s request to file an appeal against the June 8 Eldorado court order rejecting Quattrocchi’s extradition, the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) sought the Law Ministry’s opinion. This is what followed:

In a two-page note, Additional Government Counsel O P Verma, a Law Ministry officer, proffered three arguments why no appeal should be filed: incompatibility of Indian and Argentine laws; failure of the CBI to extradite Quattrocchi from Malaysia in 2003 and the high cost of the Bofors trial as pointed out by the Delhi High Court. Thus, Verma concluded, “no constructive purpose” would be served in appealing.

Law Minister Bharadwaj and senior Ministry officials signed their approval on this file and returned it to DoPT which, in turn, sent the opinion to the Ministry of External Affairs for despatch to Pramathesh Rath, the Indian Ambassador in Buenos Aires.

The CBI was given a copy of the Law Ministry’s opinion.

The Ambassador reverted to the MEA/DoPT after holding consultations with the Argentine Foreign Office. He reported that Argentine authorities had said that since an appeal was “mandatory,” India would have to, one, take back its extradition request and, two, should the case be withdrawn, there was a possibility of litigation costs being borne by India.

This time, the opinion of the CBI was sought. Director Vijay Shankar said that since Quattrocchi remained on Interpol’s Red Corner list, it was difficult for the extradition request to be withdrawn altogether.

The CBI’s opinion was sent to the Law Ministry by the DoPT. But the Law Ministry “reiterated” its earlier view, this time in a brief one-para opinion. The Law Ministry indicated that while the cost issue would be taken up at the “appropriate time,” in view of the rejection of the extradition by the Eldorado court, no appeal should be filed.

Following the signed approval of Suresh Pachauri, the Minister of State for Personnel, and other top officials of the DoPT, the Quattrocchi file then returned to the Indian mission in Buenos Aires where Rath told Argentine authorities that the Government would not appeal the Eldorado court judgment.

When questioned, Law Ministry officials said their role was “advisory” in nature and could have been rejected by the DoPT, which has the final say in such matters. DoPT officials, in turn, claim that the Law Ministry’s opinion approved by the Minister is binding on them. As far as the Quattrocchi appeal matter is concerned, they said, there was no dissenting opinion on the file, of either of the two Ministers concerned or officials.

The CBI is now under pressure given that by September 19, as per a direction of a Supreme Court bench, headed by Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan, it has to place all documents and details pertaining to Quattrocchi’s release before the Court.

Related stories:

Govt forced CBI to help Q: Jaitley
Court rejects former Union minister’s plea in Bofors case
SC asks Centre to place order of Argentinian court in Q case
SC asks Centre for papers of Q extradition case
Appeal against Q: Plea seeks reasons for withdrawal

Courtesy_
THE NEW INDIAN EXPRESS

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