AT the centre of the Bofors probe, Ottavio Quattrocchi is keeping away from the cocktail circuit. Known in the Malaysian business community for his natty designer suits in shocking colours he once turned up at a formal gettogether in a "shocking pink lounge suit" a businessman close to him says Quattrocchi has withdrawn into the bosom of his family. And that he emerges occasionally only to deny his involvement in the Bofors scandal. On February 14, in a statement to the official Bernama news agency, Quattrocchi said he would even "take all legal measures" to protect his reputation.
Labelling the reported allegations against him "wholly baseless and unfounded", he said: "I wish to categorically state that no relationship has existed in the past or currently between Bofors and I, and consequently between me, Bofors and India, or any Indian nationals in this regard.... The articles in the Press have gravely affected my reputation in India, here in Malaysia where I am currently conducting my business and internationally, and I wish to state that I will take all such legal measures as may be necessary to protect my reputation."
He remains elusive, declining to speak to reporters. Tracked down on the telephone, he maintained his innocence. But he slammed the phone down when asked if his links with the Rajiv Gandhi family had been the reason for Snamprogettis spate of contracts in India. One businessman who knew Quattrocchi in India is certain that his closeness to the Gandhi family, especially Sonia, steered these contracts to the Italian company.
Meanwhile, the Bofors office also suffers from frayed nerves. A Swedish Government investigation team was in Kuala Lumpur last year to go through the allegations. Those familiar with the case believe that most of the payoffs were handled through Malaysia and Singapore . This is not far-fetched. Businessmen say the two countries are being used for such payoffs, but it is difficult to verify such a statement. They said the Swedish Government investigators had been "unusually interested" in the activities of the Bofors office in Kuala Lumpur. The Bofors representative is out of station and could not be contacted.
The Malaysian police says it will cooperate with the CBI team to question Quattrocchi. So far, the Indian Government has not filed a criminal case against Quattrocchi without that, extradition is not a likely option, according to lawyers here.
As Quattrocchi keeps a low profile ever since the Indian Government stepped up the Bofors probe, an acquaintance claims that the Italian businessman is aware that the noose is tightening.