Justice and the quest for ‘Q’

Justice and the quest for ‘Q’

When the Union government informed the Supreme Court on Tuesday that it had withdrawn the case against Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi, it was only the last nail in the coffin of the Bofors saga. India’s justice system had already hammered the previous nails.

Quattrocchi (or Q) was at one point perhaps India’s most wanted man. After a scandal erupted in 1987 that Rajiv Gandhi’s government had accepted bribes to help Sweden’s Bofors win the bid for a new howitzer, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) named him as the middleman. What followed could easily be a plot of a bad thriller mystery: frozen foreign bank accounts, an arrest in Argentina, botched attempts at extradition. Yet, Q was never caught.

By the time the government called the quest for Q to an end this week, CBI had already given up on him. In April, CBI had taken off a 12-year Interpol notice against Q from its website. In a country whose premier law enforcement unit is derided as a tool in the hands of the current-day government, there are grounds to ask more questions.

Consider that in 2005, the government is said to have played a part in de-freezing Q’s bank accounts in the UK (though the government denied it); in 2007, the law ministry did not appeal once an Argentine court rejected CBI’s request for extradition. The Indian Express reported on Wednesday that then attorney general Milon Banerji overruled and dissuaded CBI from challenging a 2004 Delhi high court order which held that there was no corruption.

Q wasn’t apprehended either when the Bharatiya Janata Party was in power.

Political interference often becomes a cog in the wheels of justice. In September itself, thanks to inter-ministry feuds, the government created confusion by revising an affidavit filed in the Ishrat Jahan case involving an allegedly fake police encounter in Gujarat. Two years ago, the government filed and then withdrew an Archaeological Survey of India affidavit on the Ram Sethu issue.

Politics isn’t the only cog: An overburdened judiciary, an inefficient bureaucracy and thick legalese disrupt actual justice, too. But these will take as much time as political will to resolve. In the case of politics, it’s only a matter of will.

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