The death of Ottavio Quattrocchi, the Italian businessman whose name is synonymous with one of the earliest and biggest corruption cases in India, the Bofors scandal, leaves a queer taste in the mouth for all of us, particularly because the case still remains shrouded in mystery, although it is often touted as India’s worst-kept secret. Quattrocchi, who acted as the middleman in seeing through the 1986 USD 15 billion deal to procure the Howitzer guns from the Swedish company Bofors, remained the missing link that barely kept the lid over the massive kickbacks and bribes paid to a whole gamut of Indian politicians, with allegations of the Gandhi-Nehru being heavily involved making the rounds for two decades now. In fact, the name of the late former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi has been tainted forever, thanks to his being linked to the scandal, and particularly because of his proximity to Quattrocchi, whom he knew through his wife Sonia Gandhi. Evidently, the death of Ottavio Quattrocchi leaves a gaping hole in the mountain of investigation procedures spanning two and a half decades that went into unearthing the Bofors scam, ostensibly without much of a success. On several occasions, especially in 2002 and 2007, the CBI’s attempt at getting Quattrocchi extradited were rendered unsuccessful, while it has alleged that the Gandhi family had gone to great lengths to cover up the tracks of the case, which had cost Rajiv Gandhi the 1989 general elections.
With Quattrocchi’s death, the last of the remaining links with the case has now been buried and chances are slim that it will lead to a closure any time soon, or even at all. Because the Bofors scandal unfolded in a time before the advent of computers and the internet had revolutionized how we approach data and secrecy, it had been easier to bury it and make the damning documentation disappear. However, the rampant bribes, commissions and kickbacks that made their first publicly known entry into the Indian political firmament with the Bofors case, have had a lasting and nefarious impact, with corruption now becoming the order of the day. Quattrocchi’s death, therefore, should not be the end of the Bofors case.