Centre raises the bogey of Bofors again

The Bofors scandal is set to haunt the Congress party again after the centre on Thursday hinted at the possibility of reopening of the ''pay-off'' case after a parliamentary panel cited ''new evidence'' of cover-ups.

The Public Accounts Committee on Thursday suggested that the case of irregularities into the purchase of Bofors guns should be restarted as there were many "loopholes" in the previous investigation.

After Biju Janata Dal member on the PAC cited 'new evidence' to press for fresh probe into defence deal payoff, the CBI on Friday said it can re-investigate the Bofors case only if the Supreme Court or the Centre orders it.

The defence ministry and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) also made a presentation before a sub-committee of PAC on reopening the case after the centre told the sub-committee at a recent meeting that the UPA government had in 2005 denied the CBI permission to approach the Supreme Court against the Delhi High Court judgment dismissing the proceedings against the Hinduja brothers, who were among the key accused in the case.

The sub-committee, headed by Biju Janata Dal MP Bhartruhari Mahtab, wanted detailed discussions on the matter while BJP members on the panel have urged the CBI to reinvestigate the case that has haunted the Congress leadership, the Gandhis, for over three decades.

Meanwhile, the prime accused in the case, Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi, is reported to have withdrawn £3 million from his bank account despite a Supreme Court directive to freeze his account.

On Thursday, CBI director Alok Kumar Verma had appeared before the committee, which asked him to put up the case considering systemic failure in the Bofors contract as well as charges of bribery against top political leaders and officials.

The Bofors scandal that alleged kickbacks and corruption in the purchase of the guns in 1989, had led to the fall of the government under Rajiv Gandhi, but the investigations that followed failed to gather any substantial evidence.

Now, the six-member PAC Subcommittee, 'Civil Ministries and Non-compliance of timely submission of Action Taken Notes', is looking into non-compliance of certain aspects of the CAG report of 1986 on the deal. The sub-committee had summoned the defence ministry and the CBI to make detailed presentations on the action taken on the audit report on the Bofors case. The panel is considering the delay in submitting action taken notes by various ministries.