Friday December 13, 2002

Malaysian Court Won't Extradite Italian

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) - A judge in Malaysia's High Court ruled Friday against the extradition of an Italian businessman wanted in India for his alleged role in an illegal arms deal that helped bring down the government of late Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.
Judge Augustine Paul suggested that papers filed by Indian authorities against Ottavio Quattrocchi - whom India accuses of corruption and conspiracy linked to the so-called Bofors arms scandal - were vague and insufficient.
The papers were the basis of an extradition order against Quattrocchi that was issued by Malaysia's home minister two years ago but never carried out.
``The offenses alleged are open to doubt,'' Paul told a packed courtroom. ``It will not serve its purpose if a party is left guessing ... from pages and pages of documents that have been supplied.''
Indian authorities say Quattrocchi, a friend of Gandhi's family, accepted $7.3 million from now-defunct Swedish arms maker AB Bofors to facilitate the sale of 400 artillery guns to the Indian army in 1986. Paying or receiving commissions on arms sales is illegal in India.
Quattrocchi maintains he is a scapegoat in a politically motivated case to embarrass Gandhi's Congress Party, now in opposition.
Quattrocchi has been free on bail pending extradition proceedings since his arrest in Malaysia in December 2000, but had been forbidden from leaving the country where he has lived since he left India in 1993.
Malaysia and India have no extradition treaty, and the case has been the subject of legal wrangling for nearly two years.
Quattrocchi praised Paul's verdict, which upheld a similar decision earlier this month by a lower court. He plans to travel to China and Italy to visit family members before Christmas, he said.
``I always had faith in the Malaysian judiciary,'' he told reporters.
Allegations of corruption in the $1.4 billion Bofors arms sale are believed to have contributed to the downfall of Gandhi's government in 1989. Successive governments led by the Congress party have been accused of trying to bury the case.
The case was revived in 1997 by a non-Congress government and was accelerated under the current prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee.