CBI could reopen Bofors kickbacks case, House panel told

11 August 2017

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has told a parliamentary panel today that it may reopen the Bofors case, a Rs64-crore payoff scandal, which significantly contributed to the downfall of the Rajiv Gandhi government in the 1989 elections, and for 30 years has haunted the Congress.

In its reply to the parliamentary committee, the CBI has indicated that it can support the Special Leave Petition pending in the Supreme Court provided the law ministry clears the decision.

The alleged corruption in the Bofors gun deal had created a scandal in the middle of Rajiv Gandhi's term as Prime Minister in 1987, and contributed to the Congress losing the Lok Sabha elections in 1989.

The case is a "clear example of systemic failure and reflection of criminality", members of the panel said, and urged the CBI to seek permission from the government to reopen the case by filing a plea in Supreme Court.

The CBI has indicated that it can support a petition pending in the Supreme Court, which challenges the decision to cancel the case.

The agency's director Alok Verma was asked why the investigating agency did not go to the Supreme Court earlier. The MPs were reportedly told that the CBI's request for a go-ahead was denied by the Congress-led UPA, which was in power.

The panel of six MPs is examining what it says is the "oldest" report pending before it - an auditor's report on the 1986 Bofors howitzer gun deal.

The scandal swirled around allegations that Swedish defence manufacturer Bofors paid huge kickbacks to Rajiv Gandhi and others for the sale of its artillery gun to India. The allegations first emerged on Swedish Radio on 16 April 1987.

The Delhi High Court had said there was no evidence that Rajiv Gandhi had accepted bribes. Rajiv Gandhi - Congress president Sonia Gandhi's husband and party vice-president Rahul Gandhi's father - was assassinated in 1991.

The Rs1,437-crore deal between India and Swedish arms manufacturer AB Bofors for the supply of 400 155mm Howitzer guns for the Army was entered into on 24 March 1986.

The CBI on 22 January 1990 registered a First Information Report for the alleged offence of criminal conspiracy, cheating, forgery under the Indian Penal Code and other sections of the Prevention of Corruption Act against Martin Ardbo, the then president of AB Bofors, alleged middleman Win Chadda and businessmen the Hinduja brothers.

The CBI had alleged that certain public servants and private persons in India and abroad had entered into a criminal conspiracy between 1982 and 1987 in pursuance of which the offences of bribery, corruption, cheating and forgery were committed to the extent of Rs64 crore in the contracts for the supply of Bofors guns.

The first charge-sheet in the case was filed on 22 October 1999 against Chadda, Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi, then defence secretary S K Bhatnagar, Martin Ardbo and the Bofors company. A supplementary charge sheet against Hinduja brothers was filed on 9 October 2000.

A special CBI court in Delhi on 4 March 2011, had discharged main accused Quattrocchi from the case saying the country cannot afford to spend hard-earned money on his extradition which has already cost Rs250 crore.

Quattrocchi, who had fled from New Delhi on in July 1993, has never appeared before any court in India to face prosecution. He died on 13 July 2013. The other accused persons who have died are Bhatnagar, Chadda and Ardbo.

The case was finally closed after a plea by the CBI on 5 March 2011, when a Delhi court ruled that the "hard-earned" tax-payers' money could not be spent "on these type of proceedings which are not going to do any good to them".

The case came up again before the Supreme Court in 2016 with the CBI informing it that the then UPA government led by the Congress had denied permission to it to appeal against the Delhi court order.

On August 6 this year, BJP leader and advocate Ajay Agrawal had moved an application in the Supreme Court seeking early hearing of the. Agrawal has also alleged apparent collusion by the CBI with the accused persons in the Bofors scam, saying the agency did not challenge the Delhi High Court's May 2005 judgement quashing all charges against the Europe-based Hinduja brothers.

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