| India may be fighting a losing battle on the extradition case of Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi and, if the assessment sent by the Foreign Office to the CBI and the Government is any indication, it is already on a very sticky wicket. The report, according to sources, states that prima facie, the extradition request itself is not very strong. In view of the 2002 judgment passed by a Malaysian court and another by an Indian court, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) contends that the case may not stand in the courts in Argentina in the absence of any "new and compelling evidence". |
Certain critical roadblocks have been cited by the MEA. The first relates to the extradition papers carrying proof gathered by the investigating agency of the existence of offence. The 250-page extradition request is rather weak. Yet another bottleneck is the lack of solid evidence. Earlier in 2002, the CBI had failed to present sufficient evidence against Quattrocchi in the Kuala Lumpur High Court which dismissed its extradition request because of "grossly insufficient facts, no construction of sequence of events and crime".
Sensing the political implications of the case, the Foreign Office has maintained that while the MEA will extend all possible assistance, with the Indian ambassador to Argentina having been instructed to chip in, "the CBI will be responsible for adequate evidence".
Ironically, even as the MEA was issuing its assessment, the Argentinean Foreign Office was informing Indian envoy Pramathesh Rath that the extradition request handed over to them, together with the annexure, were being forwarded to the Federal Court in El Dorado in Misiones province. The Indian envoy, accompanied by a two-member CBI team of S.K. Sharma, Director, Prosecution, and Superintendent of Police Keshav Mishra, had submitted the extradition papers to the Argentinean government on March 2 soon after the duo reached Buenos Aires.
There are several other hurdles. If the lower court dismisses the extradition case, the only recourse left would be for the CBI to move the Argentinean Supreme Court, which is unlikely to say anything different. The CBI, it is quite apparent, has a tough legal battle in its hands. Quattrocchi's lawyer Alejandro Freeland argues that the Italian businessman was residing in India till 1993, seven years after the Bofors case broke, but was never questioned or approached by the agency during that time.
What may further add to the CBI's woes is Quattrocchi's clout with the Italian Government which he has put to use in an effort to bail himself out. It's a measure of his influence that Italian Ambassador to Argentina Stefano Ronca has pulled all stops to ensure he walks away free. Earlier, the Italian embassy had even supplied references to the Argentinean courts, vouching for Quattrocchi's character and helping him secure bail that was initially denied to him. Then, Ronca wrote to the Argentinean court and its foreign office that Quattrocchi was a much decorated citizen of Italy and it would not be proper to extradite him to India. Quattrocchi is a "Grand Officiale" of Italy-an honour he received for attracting business to the tune of over $10 billion (Rs 45,000 crore) for Italian companies. Sources say this may well be his second line of defence in case the CBI provides clinching evidence, thereby making his extradition a political decision for Argentina.
Meanwhile, facing a barrage of criticism, the CBI is putting up a brave face. "Argentina does not have a very encouraging record with extraditions, but our papers are in order and we have given an assurance of reciprocity," an official said. Also in the dossier are Interpol documents tracking Quattrocchi's money-flow from Switzerland to Bahamas to BSI AG in London. Britain had initially frozen Quattrocchi's accounts based on revelations relating to the money trail that had been provided by Interpol. The CBI also plans to label the Italian an absconder who has never appeared in an Indian court.
Legal analysts hold out hope in the event of some fresh evidence coming to light. "Purely on legal grounds, chances do seem even," says lawyer O.P. Rawat. But Section 11A and 11B of the Argentinean Extradition Act open a window large enough for Quattrocchi to escape. The sections provide that the offence should be punishable in Argentina, as well, and that the accused cannot be punished twice for the same offence. There is also some time bar on pursuing a case.
Freeland has indicated he will bring up the matter of defreezing of Quattrocchi's accounts in London after Additional Attorney General B. Datta's submission "that no useful purpose will be served in pursuing the case". The plea can well be that the case is dead and Quattrocchi is being pursued purely for political ends. Besides, in Argentina, the nature of his crime may not stand before a court, as middlemen in deals are not prohibited. For now, it is clear that it will take more than a legal net to nab the elusive Mr Q.
| Shoot and Stay Put |
Blaming the Bofors spectre for delays in artillery upgradation is merely a ruse
For an entity that introduced terms like 'shoot-and-scoot' to the lexicon, the Indian Army's artillery modernisation programme has been remarkably static. In the past five years, the army has held four trials in Rajasthan and Kashmir of two competing gun types-Bofors, now owned by UK's BAE Systems, and the Soltam from Israel. It was speculated that these repeated trials had more to do with the looming shadow cast by the Bofors scandal and the potential embarrassment to the UPA if the controversial weapon emerged winner.
| PICTURE SPEAK |
|SMOKE WITHOUT FIRE : The Bofors controversy is not reason for the clog |
However, it seems, nothing could be further from the truth. "So far, there has been little interference from the Government," says a senior army official. The ongoing analysis of trial results will see the army purchase 1,000 towed artillery pieces for $2 billion (Rs 9,000 crore). The army says it will ask for revalidation of certain parameters of assessment in a possible fifth round of trials and will issue fresh tenders only if these parameters are not satisfied or the competitors pull out.
Last month, the army issued request for proposals to six international firms for an additional 180 wheeled, self-propelled guns costing nearly $1 billion (Rs 4,500 crore). This is the first salvo in the army's field artillery modernisation, a gargantuan two-decade programme worth over $6 billion (Rs 27,000 crore) that received a fillip after the Kargil war.
Yet, the programme which aims at equipping all of the army's 230 artillery regiments with towed, wheeled and tracked 155 mm guns, is a relic from an age when off-the-shelf purchases were the norm. It is clearly out of sync with the present defence procurement procedure which lays emphasis on joint ventures and transfer of technology to encourage indigenisation of weapon systems.
Specifications of the programme which called for wheeled, tracked and towed howitzers were laid down in the late 1980s. With persistent delays, the requirement has snowballed to five different howitzer types. The army recently made the case for importing a truck-mounted howitzer, called the Mounted Gun System, and 180 pieces of an air-drop, ultra-light howitzer weighing 4.5 ton.
Prior to trials in 2002, the army had favoured the ponderous 155/52 mm howitzer as its standard artillery caliber. It is between five and nine ton heavier than the older 155/39 gun used in Kargil but improves the range of the older guns by only 2 km. The 155/52 caliber-yet to enter service even in the US or UK-increases the load on the gun carriage and the propulsion systems which are required to manoeuvre it, particularly in the high mountain ranges where it could be deployed. Quite appropriately, it is symbolic of the unwieldy artillery programme.
-By Sandeep Unnithan