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THE CENTRAL Bureau of Investigation, backed by the government, literally paved the way for Italian middleman Ottavio Quattrocchi to walk free. In a shocking revelation, the Argentine court that was hearing the extradition case said that the investigating agency’s legal papers were not in order and questioned the agency’s failure to issue arrest warrant against the Italian businessman after the Delhi high court’s February 2004 and May 2005 judgments.

Judge Harichi Doi in El Dorado explaining his order turning down the CBI’s extradition request concluded that the Interpol red-corner notice issued in 1997 was defunct as it was not renewed after the court orders of 2004 and 2005. The court said that the investigating agency should have sought fresh arrest warrants against the Italian businessman after the two judgments. This was a defence argument that was accepted by the court.

The Delhi high court in 2004 had dropped some of the charges against the accused in the Bofors case including various sections of the IPC including 120B (criminal conspiracy) and sections of Prevention of Corruption Act were quashed.

Ironically, the government itself had detailed the importance of getting fresh warrants when Minister of State for Personnel, Public Grievances and Pension Suresh Pachauri in a statement in Lok Sabha that it was “necessary’’ to seek a fresh warrant of arrest, which was obtained from Delhi’s chief metropolitan magistrate February 24. This shows that the government was aware of this legal loophole and rushed to rectify the mistake only after the Italian businessman’s detention. This also raises questions on the way the CBI has been pursuing and investigating the Bofors case not just in Argentina but also in the last two to three years.

The El Dorado court also said that that the fresh warrants issued by the chief metropolitan magistrate didn’t have enough details under Argentine law the arrest warrant is supposed to be accompanied by a detailed report. Taking all this into consideration, the court also agreed with the defence argument that the entire case was politically motivated.

Even though the technical point of a valid arrest warrant seems to have swung the case in the Italian businessman’s favour, the court also refused to accept documents submitted by the CBI saying they were not originals. This included documents that the CBI had got from Switzerland in January 1997 showing the agreement between AE services and AB Bofors. This raises a basic issue of why the CBI team that flew twice to Argentina to did not carry original documentation if that was what the requirement of the Argentine court. The CBI lawyer reportedly argued that the copies were all authenticated but the court refused to accept the copies.

The CBI is maintaining a stoic silence on the entire botched up episode. The agency will have to get the green signal for the appeal from the government. Under Argentine law the appeal goes automatically unless it is stopped. It remains to be seen if the government allows the matter to go into appeal.

Quattrocchi has been asked to remain in the country till June 20 and the prosecution to file its appeal by June 18. The Italian businessman was arrested on February six this at Igazau airport in Misiones province while he was on his way to Brazil and was later released on bail.

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