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India's Congress Party Attacked for Stalling Extradition of Italian Businessman

  • Anjana Pasricha

India's Congress Party-led government is under attack for not acting faster to secure extradition of an Italian businessman wanted in an arms bribery case. As Anjana Pasricha reports from VOA's New Delhi bureau, the businessman has links to Congress Party chief Sonia Gandhi.

The lower house of parliament was in uproar Monday, as angry opposition lawmakers accused the government of trying to avoid seeking the extradition of Italian businessman Octavio Quattrocchi.

He was detained in Argentina earlier this month under an Interpol arrest warrant.

News of Quattrocchi's detention only became public through a leak two weeks after he was captured. Opposition members accuse the government of not disclosing or acting on his detention to allow a one-month deadline for seeking his extradition to pass.

Quattrocchi has been wanted in India for years. He allegedly accepted a $7 million-bribe to swing a $1.3 billion deal for the purchase of artillery from Swedish arms maker Bofors in the mid-1980s. A Congress government was in power at the time.

It became India's most high profile corruption scandal, and contributed to the fall of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi's government in 1989, two years before he was assassinated.

Quattrocchi is believed to have close links to Rajiv Gandhi's widow, Italian-born Sonia Gandhi, who now leads the Congress Party.

Independent political analyst Mahesh Rangarajan says the issue could affect Sonia Gandhi's image, and embarrass the government.

"There has been a certain mystique built up around her, that she is away from the hurly burly of politics…. That mystique will be a little bit dented, because, the way the government has bent over backwards, it really defies any other explanation, other than trying to, in some way, protect people who have been fairly close to her …. This is probably one of the most embarrassing moments of the government," said Rangarajan.

After news of Quattrocchi's detention made headlines, federal investigators said they plan to send a team to Argentina to seek his extradition.

Quattrocchi has denied any wrongdoing in the case. He left India in the early 1990s, and has since lived in Malaysia and Europe. Previous attempts to extradite him have failed.

In 2004, a court exonerated Rajiv Gandhi of any wrongdoing in connection with the corruption case.

But the Bofors scandal, as it came to be known, has periodically resurfaced, and continues to be fodder for opposition parties to attack the Congress Party.

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