Congress helps Italians flee yet again
Here is a question that must be answered: How come the Congress Governments lock the stable door only after the Italian horses have bolted? That they do so under compulsion cannot be denied. That those who thus arrange the flight of the Italians are not necessarily members of the Government can too not be in doubt. But then the question that begs to be asked is: Why should the entire political class, nay, the entire country become a passive spectator when the Italians cock a snook at them?
Given the proverbial short public memory, recall that the first Italian who had bent the entire system to walk away with millions looted from this country in illicit commissions and bribes was one Ottavio Quattorochhi. His close friendship with the Gandhis was well-known. Congress Ministers and senior bureaucrats vied with one another to do his bidding. He used the REX phone at the PM’s house to order about senior Cabinet Ministers. The use of that phone, if you did not know, was strictly restricted to the PM and Cabinet ministers and a handful of top-notch bureaucrats.
The long-time Delhi representative of the Italian conglomerate, Snamprogretti, had palayed his close proximity to Antonio Maino nee Sonia Gandhi, to emerge as the undisputed high-powered fixer in the national capital. As subsequent events proved, he was at the root of the Bofors bribery scam.
To cut a long story short, the day the Swedes bared his name as the main bribe-taker, the then Congress Government arranged Quattorocchhi’s escape from India on the night of July 28-29, 1993. How could he be arrested? He knew too much, and shared the illicit gains with people who alone could help him become a most successful broker in the Capital’s power circles.
Nonetheless, once the news about his escape filtered out, the Congress Government asserted that it had issued an Interpol warrant for his arrest. Bollocks, as you would soon see.
The second time they pretended to have locked the stable door after the Italian crook had pulled wool over the eyes of Indians, was in January 2006. The honest Manmohan Singh was in the saddle in New Delhi then, as he is now. The great man sent one of his senior law officers, B Dutta, to London. And, pray, what was the mission? To put over $4 million lying frozen in a London bank in Quattorochhi’s and his wife Maria’s pocket. The account was frozen at the intervention of the VP Singh Government.
Mind you, when the word leaked about the nocturnal mission to enrich the Italian thug, the Government again undertook to freeze the Q account. A PIL too resulted in such a direction. But Q knew the game better. He had cleaned out the account literally within minutes of the GoI obligingly doing him a kind turn. Thank you, said he, and contemplated putting the illicit gains from India to better use.
Thus, having twice opened the stable door and then pretending to lock it after the damage was done, Q embarrassed his benefactors in New Delhi no end when he was detained in Argentina in February 2007. The fault lay with those who had only a few weeks ago most graciously handed over the Bofors loot to him on a platter. These nincompoops had not taken care to withdraw the Interpol look-out notice issued several years ago. But no matter. As the subsequent extradition proceedings were subverted by the CBI, Q again was a free bird. But the rap from the Argentinian judge was stinging. He said, “India did not even present proper legal documents.” How could they, when they were under orders to ensure that the know-all Q was freed honourably. He was a valued friend of the Gandhis, after all.
Let us not dilate on the sordid Q saga any more. But suffice it to say that if the Bofors pay-offs scam was at the centre of the escape of Ottavio Quattorocchhi, the escape of the two Italian marines — facing charges of murder, no less, for killing two Indian fishermen off the Kerala coast — comes in the backdrop of a bigger arms scam, the AgustaWestland deal. Rs 64 crores was a lot of money in the early 1980s. Rs 360 crores is the amount of bribery in the Rs 3,546 crore helicopter deal.
Now, middlemen too are entitled to inflation-neutral payoffs, ain’t they? A key name among the bribe-takers which has emerged from the court records in Italy in the AgustaWestland deal is simply listed as the family. Apparently, this unnamed family, whose identity cannot be hard to guess, is said to have pocketed at least half of the total bribe in the helicopter deal.
So, one is not surprised that Italy has officially refused to send back the two marines in a clear breach of the solemn undertaking given to the Supreme Court. But the more important point is that the Government did not oppose the marines going back home for Christmas. And, when they returned, the GoI counsel did not say a word in opposition when they wanted to go home again, this time to vote in the Italian national elections.
An RTI activist might like to find out if any Indian prisoner charged with murder was allowed to go home for Diwali or Eid. Of course, there was no question of any Indian undertrial being freed to vote in the local, State or parliamentary polls. Mind you, the Marines themselves were not contesting elections. And if they were so keen to vote, they could have done so through postal ballots.
But note that the PM has now warned that there would be ‘consequences for the Indian-Italian relations’ if the two Marines do not come back. Yet another case of locking the door when the Italians have already bolted, isn’t it?
Let us get this clear. Italians have contempt for Indians, more so because we behave in such a craven manner. Recent newspaper reports said they still believe that we are a third-world country and have no right to detain their men even on the charge of murder. What reflects the average Italian’s racist attitude in the matter was summed up by a comment heard in Rome, as reported in the Businessline: “Why should two fishermen matter so much in a country where thousands of children are dying of starvation?”
Yes, why should two Indian lives matter when our own leaders are able and ready to sell India cheap for bagfuls of cash to be stashed away in secret Swiss bank accounts or to be invested in plush real estate in Rome, Milan, Turin, etc?
More than the Italians treating us with condescension, a section of our own leadership seems to believe that we still have to pay our debt to the Westerners for the civilising influence they seek to rub on us. It is the East India Company syndrome all over again, though if you take Q and AgustaWestland cases, the Italians seemed to have replaced the British as our overlords. Incidentally, someone suggested only half in jest that the Italian ambassador who has now been asked by the Apex Court not to leave this country should acquire Indian citizenship and join politics. However, before renouncing his Italian passport he should make sure that a stellar role awaits him in the Indian polity.
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Virendra Kapoor, a freelance columnist and commentator on current affairs, is a former editor of Free Press Journal, Mumbai. He was also a senior editor of Indian Express, Delhi.