INDIA: India asks Argentina to extradite bribery suspect in arms scandal

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Indian authorities have made a formal request to Argentina for the extradition of Ottavio Quattrocchi, an Italian businessman accused in an arms bribery case, media reports said Friday.

Quattrocchi, 69, accused of being a conduit in the 640 million rupees (13 million dollars) of bribes paid in a 1986 arms deal involving the Swedish arms maker Bofors AB, was detained in Argentina on February 6. A court released him on bail last week, but his passport was impounded and he was barred from leaving the country.

India's ambassador to Argentina, Parmathesh Rath, who filed the request with the Argentinian foreign office in Buenos Aires on Thursday said it was now for the Argentinian government to check the documents and allow Quattrocchi's extradition, the PTI news agency reported.

"We we have to follow up within the framework of Argentina," Rath was quoted as saying. "We will do whatever is possible."

India, which does not have an extradition pact with Argentina, promised in its request that it would return the favour if a man wanted by Argentina is ever caught in India, the NDTV network reported.

Quattrocchi was on an Interpol notice after a request by Indian's Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

In one of the highest profile criminal cases in India, Bofors was alleged to have paid kickbacks in the 1.6-billion-dollar sale of 155-millimetre field howitzers. Besides Quattrocchi, the then-Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi and the London-based billionaire Hinduja brothers were accused in the case.

The payoffs scam led to the election defeat of Gandhi in 1989, two years before he was assassinated. Later, in 2005, the Delhi High Court quashed all charges against Gandhi, the Swedish firm and the Hinduja brothers, including Srichand, Gopichand and Prakash Hinduja.

Quattrocchi, who allegedly received 7 million dollars as bribes in the deal, is the only loose end left in the case. He has been abroad for more than a decade, and efforts by the CBI to extradite him have so far failed.

The businessman is reportedly close to the Gandhi family, including Italian-born Sonia Gandhi, chairwoman of India's ruling Congress Party. Quattrocchi, however, maintains his innocence and said he has been targeted in a political vendetta in India because of his links to the Gandhis.

India's main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party has stalled action in parliament on several occasions since Monday, charging the Congress-led government of shielding Quattrocchi and acting tardily in seeking his extradition.

The political pressure led to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh making a statement that the government "had done no wrong" and would allow the investigative agency "full freedom" to pursue the case.

CBI Director of Prosecution SK Sharma, who is currently in the Argentinian capital, said his bureau was confident of getting Quattrocchi to India.

"We will proceed according to the law," Sharma told reporters. "We are very much hopeful."

AMP Section Name:Corruption