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- Aug 14, 2009
India has dropped a graft case against an Italian businessman accused over an arms scandal which ended Rajiv Gandhi's prime ministership 20 years ago. The government told the Supreme Court the case against Ottavio Quattrocchi was being withdrawn. The opposition BJP condemned the decision, it said the government was shielding the Italian businessman.
Mr Quattrocchi has always maintained his innocence
He was accused in the Bofors corruption case. In April India withdrew his name from the Interpol "wanted list". "The central government has consented for withdrawal of the prosecution of Quattrocchi," Solicitor General Gopal Subramanium told a Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice KG Balakrishnan. "We have to take a call on the matter and the government has taken a call after considering all aspects," he said.
Mr Subramanium said India's top investigating agency, the CBI, had taken the decision to close the case by also taking into account the Delhi high court judgement of 2004 which had held that no case of corruption was made out in the Bofors deal.
The opposition BJP has criticised the government for dropping the case against Mr Quattrocchi. "Every attempt has been made by the government to shield him, which is highly condemnable and is a blot on the face of this government," BJP spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad said.
Illegal commissions were allegedly paid on the Bofors guns.
The Bofors case has been one of the highest-profile and longest-running criminal investigations in India. It involved the Swedish firm AB Bofors, which was alleged to have paid $1.3bn in bribes over the sale of 400 howitzers to India in 1986, when Rajiv Gandhi was prime minister. The Bofors issue is extremely sensitive politically for the governing Congress party as Mr Quattrocchi was known to be a friend of party leader Mrs Sonia Gandhi, who is Italian-born. Mr Quattrocchi was allegedly the intermediary in the Bofors deal and received $7m in bribes and other illegal payments.
Indian investigators have tried unsuccessfully for much of the past decade to get Mr Quattrocchi extradited to India. The Italian businessman has always denied any involvement, arguing he was the victim of a political vendetta in India. The case contributed to the election defeat of Rajiv Gandhi in 1989, two years before he was assassinated. In 2004, he was posthumously cleared of any wrongdoing in the deal.