SUNDAY EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH OTTAVIO QUATTROCHI
AND HIS RELATIONS WITH THE GANDHI FAMILY
It was billed as the smoking gun in the Bofors affair. For a fortnight before, New Delhi had reverberated with roumers to the effect that Chitra Subramaniam and the Indian Express were ready to publish a story, which would link the Bofors payments to Rajiv Gandhi.
When the story did appear, it had to fight for front-page prominence with the parliamentary storm over Ayodhya and resignation of commerce minister P.Chidambaram. In addition, despite its sensational implications, the story failed to rock the Lok Sabha as most people had reckoned it would MPs continued to get agitated over Ayodhya and Bofors hardly got a mention.
What Subramaniam’s story said was this:
* In 1990, V.P.Singh’s government sent a Letter Rogatory (LR) to the Swiss. The Swiss authorities were asked to investigate the bank accounts of over 30 individuals or entities. All these persons are /organizations then received letters from the Swiss Judges who were investigating the Bofors affair and were told to prove that the money in their accounts did not come from the Bofors-India deal.
Â· Among those named in the LR was Ottavio Quattrochi, the New Delhi based representative of Snamprogetti, the Italian multinational firm. Quattrochi is known to be a close friend of the Gandhis.
Â· The Swiss discovered that Quattrochi did own an account in their country and that it had a balance of between Rs 21 crore.
Â· They wrote to Quattrochi asking him to demonstrate that the money was not linked to Bofors. He never replied and consequently, the Swiss authorities froze all the money in the account.
Â· Subramaniam said that she had traced Quattrochi’s control of this account to a company in Panama and suggested that this Panamanian entity could also represent Quattrochi in other banks.
That was what the story said. And potentially, it was dynamite because it suggested that Quattrochi had been handling the Bofors money on behalf of Rajiv Gandhi.
What it did not explain was how Quattrochi had been paid off by Bofors. As is now well known the pay-offs went to three entities. One lot went to Svenska, a company linked to Win Chadha though it is believed that the money was not mean for Chadha alone but was part of a slush fund. A second series of payments went to Lotus/Moresco, companies linked by Subramaniam’s investigations to the Hindujas.
Shortly before the deal was signed, a third agent , AE Services, signed up for three percent of the value of the deal consequently. Svenska’s entitlement was cut back by this percentage. AE Services was paid only US$ 7.34 million before the scandal broke and payments were terminated.
Nobody has ever been able to produce any evidence as to the identities of the real beneficiaries of AE Services though it is conceded that if there was a political pay-off , this was it.
Moreover, the AE Services account is so cleverly constructed with ownership
Claimed by front companies as far apart as Liechtenstein and Hong Kong, that it is impossible to trace the eventual beneficiaries.
However, there is an opening. Documents made available to the Indian Government by the Swiss show that nearly the entire amount deposited by Bofors in to the AE Services account was transferred to an account at Geneva’s Union Bank of Switzerland. This account is owned by a new company called Colbar Investments.
If the express is right and Quattrochi is linked to Bofors, then there only two possibilities:
Â· He controls Colbar or the money was transferred yet agin to an account of which he is the beneficiary.
Â· Or, he was paid off from the Svenska or Lotus / Moresco accounts.
Judging by the suggestions in her piece, Subramaniam obviously believes that the trial leads through Colbar.
But as Congressmen were quick to point out last week, no journalist even one with as impressive a record as Subramanian’s can make such as serious allocations and expect to silence her detractors unless she has proof.
So far, at least, Subramaniam has provided no documentation, though, given given her access in Switzerland, there is little doubt that she will eventually produce the document s that explain where the AE-Colbar trial leads. Even if she doesn’t, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) could probably trace Colbar if it was serious about its investigation.
What will happen once the documents are produced? That is difficult to say. Quattrochi insists that he is not worried. The day before the Express revelations appeared, he agreed to a meeting with Sunday (See interview), cheerfully posed for photographs and declared with quiet confidence:” My conscience is clear”
The coolness perhaps was in character. However, it was the behaviour of the opposition, traditional allies of the Indian Express that was uncharacteristic.
The story appeared on a Friday and Congressmen geared up for a storm in both the Houses. However, none was forthcoming. In a sense, V.P.Singh and the Janata Dal have treated the revelations as vindication of their stand on Bofors Indian connection etc.
But clearly, Raja is more interested in projecting himself as a champion of the minorities than he is in carrying forward the Bofors-led agenda that briefly made him the Prime Minister. So, the Dal actually ignored the story and concentrated on Ayodhya. When the BJP did raise the issue, the intention seemed to be only to deflect attention away from the masjid controversy.
Since then, only two rabble-rousers of dubious credibility Ram Jethmalani and Jaipal Reddy have issued statements against Quattrochi and Congressmen can hardly believe their luck.
Could it be that the Bofors controversy has run its course? That, in an era dominated by Rs.2000 crore scams, nobody can get excited about a Rs.18-20 crore pay-off in an arms deal?
Or, is it simply that after the assassination, the traditional Indian respect for the dead has come into effect and nobody wants to besmirch Rajiv Gandhi’s memory? And the emotive headlining of the Express story ( ‘Italian nexus established’) combined with an innuendo-filled profile of Quattrochi that appeared below Subramaniam’s story, made it clear that this was an attack on Sonia Gandhi-could it be that Indian politicians were unwilling to malign a woman who had just lost her husband in such tragic circumstances?
It is too early to say. The issue could still take off and even if this story goes unnoticed, Congressmen will have to cope with its sequel when the documents start appearing.
But so far, at least, it seems as though we may at least learn the truth about Bofors only to find that no one cares.
“I have done nothing wrong”
Ottavio Quattrochi on the controversy surrounding him and his company
Despite the controversy and the storm surrounding him, 54-year-old Ottavio Quattrochi looked calm and relaxed. An Italian by birth, Quattrochi is an old India hand, having spent over three decades in Delhi as the representative of Snamprogetti. But he ran in to trouble after his name was linked with the Bofors pay-offs, which many feel he accepted on behalf of Rajiv Gandhi. Quattrochi has avoided the media since then, but agreed to speak to SUNDAY at his posh Golf Links office in the capital.
SUNDAY: How has Snamprogetti fared after the opening up of the Indian economy? Do you think you have been discriminated against when the Opposition was in power because of your proximity to the Gandhi family?
Ottavio Quattrochi: Snamprogetti has fared extremely well in the new liberalization era. However, it is too early to talk about long-term results. No, I do not think what we were discriminated against when the Rajiv Gandhi was out of power.
Yes, we lost two-three contract s, which we otherwise would have bagged. But whether we lost because discrimination is something I am not sure about. Let me categorically state that what we achieved has been due to our merit. Not because of the closeness to the Gandhi family.
Q: But your critics do not agree with you. They have alleged that the Thal-Vaishet projects that Snamprogetti have won contracts and the to Thal-Vaishet project due our links with Sonia Gandhi and that but for V.P.Singh you would bagged the Hazira-Jagadishpur pipeline contract as well.
A: This is false. We have undertaken the contracts at competitive prices and delivered the goods in time. The allegations made against us are political in nature. They are using us to hit out at the Gandhi family.
Q: When did you come to know the Gandhi family? Did you know Ms Sonia Gandhi and her family before she married Rajiv Gandhi?
A: I came to India in February 1964 as a bachelor. I got married later on. I have been in India ever since then. I used to stay in Hotel Fonseca. We produced four lovely children, three daughters and one son. My family knew Sonia Gandhi only after coming to this country. I had never met Sonia Gandhi’s family before. I feel sad when people allege that I have used their friendship
Q:Allegations are being made that you own a company called Trade Mex, which controls Colbar, in which Bofors pay-offs from the AE Services account has been transferredâ€¦
A: It is a malicious accusation. First, they talk about Snamprogetti winning contracts because of my closeness to the Gandhi family. Now this what proof do they have? I categorically state that the accusations are politically motivated and have nothing to do with reality.
Q: It is also alleged that you are the mysterious Mr ‘Q’ who figures in Martin Ardbo’s diaryâ€¦
A 🙁 Looking resigned) White lies. I do not know how to react. It is a false and baseless accusation.
Q: It is said that the two Swiss bank accounts frozen along with several others in 1990 belonged to youâ€¦
A: Rubbish. Here I am in this country. If you think that, I have done something against the law, ‘revoke my visa. If I am told to go back, I will leave immediately.
Q: In the current parliament session, the Bofors issue will once again be raised. Your alleged role in the Bofors scandal will also be raked up. Do you feel insecure?
A: My conscience is clear. I have done nothing wrong. I sleep with a peaceful
Q: Assuming that what you have said is true, haven’t you ever felt the temptation to take advantage of your close friendship with the Gandhi’s?
A: Never. It has been my privilege to know the Gandhi family. As a human being, Rajiv Gandhi was excellent. Rarely have I come across such a person with so many good qualities.Sonia-Rajiv were a fantastic couple, who were made for each other. If you take advantage of a relationship, you spoil the relationship. It then sours.
Q: A lot has been made of your Gandhi family connection. Do you feel it would been better if you had not know them at all?
A:Never. You win some, you loose some. I am happy the way things have been and are.
THE AE SERVICES TRIAL:
1 AE SERVICES
CLAIMS Bofors told the JPC that this was a legitimate advisory outfit headquartered at 136, the High Street, Guildford, and Surrey. The CBI oncluded that it was “promoted by Major R.A.Wilson”.
FACTS The Company has no office in Guildford or anywhere else. The address given is of a solicitor’s office which towards its mail.
Major Wilson owns no shares in the company far from being its promoter.
CONCLUSION This post-box company received kickbacks on behalf of somebody.
2 CIAOU ANSTALT
CLAIMS The JPC said it owned AE Services. Major Wilson claimed it had a number of units in different countries consisting of lawyers, accountants, consultants and other experts.
FACTS ‘CIAOU has no offices (or units) anywhere in the world. It is a post-box company with assets under $20,000 whose affairs are looked after by Dr Karl Heinz Ritter who looks after hundreds of such companies.
It has no employees at all, but appears to retain the services of an accountancy firm called Mayo Associates, which employs Myles Stott and his secretary Rita Zumbrunnen who handle some of CIAOU’s affairs.
3 DIVISION BENEFICIARIES ACCREDITEURS
CLAIMS The JPC suggest that it owned Anstalt and was, therefore, the ultimate owner of AE Services.
FACTS Division beneficiaries own the majority of shares in AE Services (worth 98 pounds sterling) but is no ultimate owner of CIAOU because it is owned by CIAOU.
Again this is a post-box company has only a mailing address at 1501 Hutchinson House in Hong Kong.
4 THE BANK ACCOUNTS
CLAIMS Bofors told the JPC it paid $ 7.3 Million Services as winding up charges.
The event to an account at NORD Bank in Zurich.
FACTS: In fact Bofors was committed to a percent of the value of the deal, 8 million had been paid when the broke.
Obviously, these were service charges for looking the letterbox companies.
The bulk of the money $7 million went to Colbar Investments which had an account at the Union Bank of Switzerland.
CLAIMS Nothing is officially said about this company
FACTS No Facts are available.
SPECULATIONS The Suggestion is that Colbar is controlled through a Panama-based letterbox company but that the beneficiary is listed with the Swiss bank as Ottavio Quattrochi.
6 THE QUATTROCHI LINK
CLAIMS The JPC did not Question him.
FACTS He appears in Martin Ardbo’s diary if you believe that he is the mysterious ‘q’ referred to in the notation, ‘Q’s involvement could be a problem because of his closeness to ‘R’.
ALLEGATIONS Quattrochi was letter Rogatory in 1990. The Swiss then froze two accounts in his name and asked him to prove that the money did not come from Bofors. He never turned up.
It is suggested that either he is the beneficiary of Colbar or that Colbar was merely a step the funds then went to an account of which he was the beneficiary.