An application has been moved in the Supreme Court seeking early hearing of the politically sensitive Rs 64 crore Bofors pay-off case after a fresh media report suggesting a financial quid pro quo for the Rs 1437 crore Howitzer gun deal in 1986.
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) told a parliamentary panel today that it may reopen the Bofors case, which for 30 years has haunted the Congress.
The Bofors scandal was a major political scandal that occurred between and Sweden during the 1980s and 1990s, initiated by Indian National Congress (Congress party) politicians and implicating the Indian prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi, and several other members of the Indian and Swedish governments who were accused of receiving kickbacks from Bofors AB,a bank principally financed by the Wallenberg family’s Skandinaviska Enskilda Banken, for winning a bid to supply India’s 155 mm field howitzer.
The CBI on January 22, 1990 had registered the FIR for the alleged offence of criminal conspiracy, cheating, forgery under the IPC and other sections of the Prevention of Corruption Act against Martin Ardbo, the then President of AB Bofors, alleged middleman Win Chadda and Hinduja brothers.
The scandal relates to illegal kickbacks paid in a US$1.4 billion deal between the Swedish arms manufacturer Bofors with the Government of India for the sale of 410 field howitzer guns, and a supply contract almost twice that amount. It was the biggest arms deal ever in Sweden, and money marked for development projects was diverted to secure this contract at any cost. The investigations revealed flouting of rules and bypassing of institutions.
The scale of the corruption was far worse than any that Sweden and India had seen before and directly led to the defeat of Gandhi’s ruling Indian National Congress party in the November 1989 general elections. The Swedish company paid ₹640 million (US$9.9 million) in kickbacks to top Indian politicians and key defence officials.
The middleman associated with the scandal was Ottavio Quattrocchi, an Italian businessman who represented the petrochemicals firm Snamprogetti. Quattrocchi was reportedly close to the family of Rajiv Gandhi and emerged as a powerful broker in the 1980s between big businesses and the Indian government.
While the case was being investigated, Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated for unrelated reasons by the LTTE.
The appellant, a BJP member and advocate Ajay Aggarwal who has asked for an early hearing of the special leave petition (SLP), pending since September 2005. The accused in the Bofors case were discharged by the Delhi High Court in May 2005.
Agarwal, had contested the Rai Bareli Lok Sabha elections in 2014 against Congress President Sonia Gandhi. He was a lawyer in the Supreme Court of India where he filed public interest litigations in several cases including the Bofors scandal, the Taj Corridor case and the fake stamp paper scam run by Abdul Karim Telgi.
Agrawal has also alleged apparent collusiveness by the CBI with the accused persons in the Bofors scam, saying the agency did not challenge the Delhi High Court’s May 31, 2005 judgement quashing all charges against the Europe-based Hinduja brothers.
The agency took a decision in January this year to not oppose the Bofors SLP. The decision is pivotal because CBI is both a material respondent in the case and the agency that investigated the Bofors case.
CBI’s files and file notings since 2005 on the issue which show that in 2006 the then Director of Prosecution (DoP), CBI, who’s responsible for supervising and conducting the agency’s cases, had argued against filing an appeal against the Delhi high court order.
However in January this year, when Director of Prosecution (DoP), CBI, agreed with the agency’s top officers. The relevant file noting of January 13 reads: “Our stand shall be in consonance with the earlier decision to file the SLP but since no permission was given to CBI by the concerned ministry we did not go for SLP.”
The first charge sheet in the case was filed on October 22,1999 against Win Chadda, Ottavio Quottrocchi, then Defence Secretary S K Bhatnagar, Arbdo and the Bofors company. A supplementary charge sheet against Hinduja brothers was filed on October 9, 2000.
A special CBI court in Delhi on March 4, 2011, had discharged Quottrocchi from the case saying the country cannot afford to spend hard earned money on his extradition which has already cost Rs 250 crore.
Quottrocchi, who had fled from here on July 29-30,1993, has never appeared before any court in India to face prosecution. He passed away on July 13, 2013.The other accused persons who have died are Bhatnagar, Chadda and Ardbo.