New Delhi: The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) told a parliamentary panel today that it may reopen the Bofors case, the Rs 64 crore payoff scandal which significantly contributed to the downfall of the Rajiv Gandhi government in the 1989 General 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. 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 had significantly contributed to the political discourse against his party, which lost the Lok Sabha elections in 1989. The Rs 1,437-crore deal between India and Swedish arms manufacturer AB Bofors for the supply of 400 155mm Howitzer guns for the Army was entered on March 24, 1986.
The Swedish Radio on April 16, 1987 had claimed that the company had paid bribes to top Indian politicians and defence personnel. 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.
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 Rs 64 crore in the contracts for the supply of Bofors guns.
The first chargesheet in the case was filed on October 22, 1999 against Chadda, Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi, then Defence Secretary S K Bhatnagar, Ardbo 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 main accused Quattrocchi from the case saying the country cannot afford to spend hard-earned money on his extradition which has already cost Rs 250 crore.
Quattrocchi, who had fled from New Delhi 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.
The case was finally closed after a plea by the CBI on March 5, 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 politically-sensitive Rs 64 crore Bofors pay-off case. 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.