Amateur, inexperienced and perhaps innocent late Rajiv Gandhi was crucified by powerful cartel of middlemen leading to destruction of India’s oldest political party. The present government and the pro-active courts must order re investigation of the BOFORS SCAM to focus on exposing middlemen rather than the past ruling establishment because we felt that bofors scam triggered birth to a new class of “dalals” in India and they overpowered the crucial institutions, establishing India as one of the most corrupt country in the world. Though we are fortunate to have fiscally clean Prime Minister's in the last few decades yet the corruption is rampant in the country. Where it went wrong? The answer is simple, the country is held hostage at the mercy of middlemen operating in politics, bureaucracy, legal and media domain. The country is bleeding from corruption and common man misery continued unabated.
In this backdrop, it is vital to explore the Bofors scandal that changed politics of the country some 33 years ago in 1987. With revelations in 1987 by Swedish Radio alleging kickbacks in the purchase of guns for the Indian Army tremors started in Indian polity and press that shook the roots of Congress regime under Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Unfortunately, there were several bigwigs cutting across party lines with incriminating links to this scam and they colluded to sabotage this case allowing several culprits to escape public scrutiny and legal prosecution.
Part 1: Background
A healthy democracy evolves through legislature, executive, judiciary and media. The Bofors scandal in 1980s set in motion a process of decay in all the organs of democracy whereby they were compromised to save the guilty that were among the country’s powerful elite. It may well be that the allegedly guilty leader of the then ruling party was beguiled by his cronies for their own vested interests. It is also true that propriety demands that a dead person should not be accused since he cannot respond and clear his name (We will strictly follow the convention). However, the country has a right to know the whole truth once it was established that money exchanged hands in the deal. Corruption in the defense establishment should be treated as treachery against the nation and it must be investigated under IPC and stringent NSA guidelines. In 2005, the Delhi High Court quashed charges against all other people who were accused in the Bofors case, including the Hinduja brothers who were also accused of being middlemen in the deal. The CBI plea against the High Court verdict was filed in February 2018 after an extraordinarily long delay of 13 years; it was rejected by the SC. The Court should have taken note of the fact that UPA I & UPA II were in power from 2004-2014, hence the question of an appeal in top court during this period would have been impossible. However, one ex BJP worker and Advocate Ajay Agrawal had filed an appeal against the Delhi High Court judgment in 2005 itself. The Supreme Court agreed to hear Agrawal's plea and the case is currently pending in the court. The Supreme Court told the CBI that it could make itself heard during the hearings on Agrawal's plea. Will the CBI under BJP regime now file an Intervention Application (IA) in the Ajay Agrawal’s case?
Background: Mohan Guruswamy wrote investigative reports on the case to know the scam's political background and the business nexus behind it. Olaf Palme, the Prime Minister of Sweden was an influential and respected name in world affairs and had strenuously opposed the US war on Vietnam. He inspired Rajiv Gandhi to take the initiative on nuclear disarmament. The quid pro quo for facilitating Rajiv Gandhi's easy entry to the global high table was the purchase of the Bofors FH45 Howitzer. Palme was also facing a re-election and his party's coffers needed topping up. The Indian Army’s Howitzer order would do the trick. The competition was shortlisted in to M/s Sofma of France, M/s AB Bofors of Sweden, M/s International Military Services of the United Kingdom, and M/s Voest Alpine of Austria. In the first six evaluations, the Sofma 155mm TR howitzer, with its extended range, was decisively preferred to the Bofors gun. Financial considerations also gave the French manufacturer what seemed to be an unbeatable lead. The donation by the Bofors Foundation at Karlskrona to the Swedish SDP is solid proof.
Losing this lucrative order made the Arun Nehru led Austrian competitor Voest Alpine furious since it was confident of bagging it, largely because its product was the best gun and preferred choice of the armed forces technical committee. Austrian leader Eisenberger told the parliamentary committee that the funds they wanted accounted for were paid to the Congress party and that a kinsman of the Indian Prime Minister had received them. The Austrian government then advised the Indian government to have this money returned and close the matter. This was the first time the new Indian Prime Minister heard about the dirty game played by his known set of close people. He was furious. A very powerful Minister in his government was summarily sacked. Now a way was sought to set this account right. Bofors was required to close this hole. This was being arranged via a Swiss banker Francis Laffont. The route went like this. Bofors pays Laffont, Laffont pays Voest Alpine and the money already paid in India stays where it is. Eisenberger alleged that Voest Alpine's representative in Delhi, a man called Unterweger was Ottavio Quatrochhi's neighbor in New Delhi. Being expatriate businessmen, they became good friends and both were good friends of Rajiv Gandhi’s wife Sonia Gandhi and her sister Anushka’s then husband Walter Vinci. It is a well-documented fact that Vinci was in the group of Rajiv Gandhi’s delegation which signed the Bofors deal. BJP leader Subramanian Swamy many times petitioned to Central Governments on probing the role of Vinci who got a major cut in the deal and later buzzed off from Sonia’s family.
As was the well-established practice then, Unterweger also cut a deal with Quattrocchi. What Unterweger did not know was that Quattrocchi had similar deals cut with Bofors and Sofma, the French howitzer manufacturer. When the Voest Alpine deal collapsed, Quattrocchi was required to close that account, as did the Congress party. So one more pay off stream was organised by Bofors to Quattrochi to close this hole. The Hinduja brothers took this to the next level. People like the Hindujas have friends in all parties and many countries. Lest we forget, it was Atal Bihari Vajpayee who wrote to then Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao seeking closure of the Bofors case against the Hinduja brothers. And it was Srichand Hinduja who accompanied Vajpayee’s Principal Secretary Brajesh Mishra to his meetings with then British PM Tony Blair and then French PM Jacques Chirac after the nuclear tests in 1998. Vajpayee and Mishra were actively canvassing for approval of the controversial proposed Hinduja power plant at Vizagapatam. Not surprisingly, even today the plant is under tremendous debt burden and the public sector banks are at high risk of losing tax payers money. Adding to the trouble, there is a massive litigation going on between the state government, state power regulator and the Hinduja’s.
So far, the Indian Government has been given two names by the Swedish journalists who are involved in the story. One is Win Chadha, a Delhi-based arms dealer who represents a number of companies abroad, including Bofors. Chadha has denied that he received any payments, and claimed that he stopped representing Bofors in 1985 after the agreement between Rajiv and the then Swedish premier Olof Palme that no middlemen would be involved. A photograph published in several Swedish dailies, which elicited amused comment in Stockholm, was that of a jubilant Chadha celebrating with champagne, with Bofors officials, after the contract was clinched. The other name given is that of Commander M.R.A. Rao, who used to represent Bofors in the late '70s, but retired from the arms business after Chadha's appointment. More over there is a big hidden aspect in this Bofors saga. The kickback money paid to Quattrocchi and Walter Vinci came from a shell firm AE Services. BJP leader Subramanian Swamy, who was also Law Minister during 1990-91 and saw many prosecution files and investigators reports, repeatedly stated that M/s AE Service was first promoted by Congress leader P Chidambaram’s elder cousin and industrialist AC Muthaiah. Swamy many times demanded probe into Muthaiah’s role in Bofors kickback arrangement. However CBI even during BJP regime from 1998 to 2004 and till now in 2020 has kept silent on this fact. Even BJP leader Arun Jaitley, whose career brightened as Additional Solicitor General (ASG) in charge of the Bofors case during VP Singh regime, always kept quiet on this aspect due to his proximity with Chidambaram. Like Jaitley, all BJP leaders kept silence on the role of Hinduja brothers due to latter's proximity to Vajpayee. The worst role in the cover up was that of the Law Minister Ram Jethmalani who handled the files of Bofors in law ministry and later against all norms administrative and political morality, became the advocate of Hinduja Brothers.
Such is the sordid and nefarious saga of the Bofors case in which powerful businessmen and politicians cutting across party lines colluded to deceive the Indian public and nation.
Bofors Scandal – The murky tale of sabotage: Who are all responsible?
The real sabotage started in Bofors case when trial started in 2000. The corruption case came to light in 1987 and it politically finished Rajiv Gandhi though the subsequent investigation showed his innocence in person. The beneficiaries could have been his colleagues, close family acquaintance and surely the middlemen and corporate Dalal’s.
Part – 2
In 1997, Swedish Government submitted a box full of documents about Bofors case to India. Journalist Chitra Subramanium, who first exposed the Swedish Radio’s revelation of 1987 was present in the function of the box handing over to Indian Ambassador by Swedish Federal Bureau of Police along with other journalists. Defence Minister George Fernandez many times complained that Prime Minister AB Vajpayee never allowed him to touch this box or any of the Bofors files. Why? Answer is simple: the role of Vajpayee protégé Hinduja Brothers in the Bofors kickback would have been exposed. Now the question is where is the box handed over by Swedish Police to CBI? CBI never mentioned about this box in their charge sheet filed after five years.
Legal Battle: The charge-sheet filed on October 9, 2000 by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in the Delhi court of Special Judge Ajit Bharihoke, along with the detailed post-April 1987 record of the media investigation and other documents and reports to make two things clear. While there is nothing new in the claim made by the Hinduja Brothers about their "non-involvement in the Bofors case", a mass of multi-faceted documentary evidence and information gives the lie to this claim. On April 22, 1987, the respected Swedish daily newspaper Dagens Nyheter (DN), quoting highly placed company sources in an original report, identified the Hindujas as recipients of the "commission" paid by Bofors in connection with winning the Bofors-India howitzer contract of March 24, 1986. The first irrefutable documentary basis of the Hindujas’ involvement in the Bofors-India payoff scandal came in the form of six documents relating to the PitcoMoresco: 'Lotus', 'Mont Blanc', 'Tulip' accounts track of 'commission' payments, amounting to nearly SEK 81 million, published and analysed in The Hindu of April 22, 1988 and June 25, 1988. Especially important were three transaction documents which made the link, "Pitco, c/o Sangam Ltd" and "Pitco, c/o Mr G.P. Hinduja Sangam Ltd.," for 1982 and 1984. By June 1988, the independent media investigation had acquired and published a large number of authoritative Bofors documents that gave the lie to the 'winding up', 'no middlemen', 'no commission', 'no Indian recipient' story. By late1989, a great deal of further evidence and information, notably from the Martin Ardbo diary entries and notes for 1987 seized by the Swedish police and from The Hindu investigation's interaction with the Hindujas had revealed the involvement of the Hinduja Brothers as lead actors in the crisis-management and cover up. In fact, these developments strongly indicated that the Hinduja's role in the Bofors howitzer scandal went deeper than the role of anyone.
After a regular criminal case was registered by the CBI in 1990, this strategy of blanket denial continued with S.P. Hinduja and G.P. Hinduja reportedly claiming to the CBI investigators, as late as 1991, that "our family has never dealt with Bofors" and S.P. Hinduja going so far as to assert, in a newspaper interview published on April 14, 1991, that "we are not an appellant before Swiss courts on the Bofors matter." This unsavory chapter should have come to an end with the incriminating documents received in December 1999 by India's premier criminal investigation agency from the Swiss authorities in execution of the letter of rogatory of February 7, 1990. But during a phase of pre-charge sheet jitters, the denial continued with new variants of the falsehood in desperate attempts to block and even derail the lawful investigation. No longer was it possible to deny the fact of Bofors payments into the coded accounts opened by a Panama based front spelt as M/s Mc Intyre Corporation and M/s Mac Intire Corporation, or ownership of this 'M...' corporation (by whatever name spelt) by the three Hinduja brothers, Srichand, Gopichand and Prakash Hinduja.
The Bofors case, as investigated by the CBI, is about criminal conspiracy, bribery, criminal misconduct by public servants, cheating, criminal breach of trust, forgery for the purpose of cheating and using as genuine a forged document in respect of the Bofors-India howitzer contract of March 24, 1986. The first charge-sheet, filed in October 1999, was against the former Defence Secretary, S.K. Bhatnagar, Ottavio Quattrocchi, W.N. Chadha, Martin Ardbo, M/s A.B. Bofors for various offences under the Indian Penal Code. The charge-sheet against G.P., S.P. and P.P. Hinduja alleges that they were "party to the criminal conspiracy with Martin Ardbo and others during the period 1985-1987 and thereafter and in pursuance thereof, they also received commissions from M/s AB Bofors"; that the Swedish arms manufacturer paid the three brothers, through the 'M...' corporation, SEK 80.80 million; that although the Government of India had laid down a requirement of no middlemen and no commissions in the howitzer deal and Bofors had agreed, "in pursuance of the criminal conspiracy, the accused persons dishonestly led the government to believe that there were no agents and induced the government to part with" an amount that included "commissions," thus cheating the government and putting it to "a wrongful loss."
The supplementary charge-sheet makes clear that in the CBI's professional judgment, there is abundant evidence linking the 'Arab-Tulip," "Lotus," and "Mont Blanc" coded payments (SEK 37.03 million, SEK 31.99 million and SEK 11.77 million) into three Hinduja Swiss bank accounts with the 1986 Bofors-India howitzer contract and the consequent payoffs. A CBI analysis of the nine discrete payments made by Bofors into the three coded Hinduja accounts between May and December 1986 showed that the payments were contingent on, and linked precisely to the advance paid to Bofors by the Government of India and the payments made on account of the actual delivery of the gun systems, ammunition and so on. The evidence is absolutely clear that these were 'commissions' in accordance with the 3 per cent of the total contract value laid down in a Moresco-Bofors contract, as revealed to the Government of India by the Bofors officials.
The CBI charge-sheet documents blocking maneuvers by the three Hinduja brothers in Switzerland, undertaken to prevent the Government of India receiving the legal assistance requested under the 'dual criminality' provision. It also calls attention to the significance of the change of nationality by G.P. Hinduja in June 1998 and by S.P. Hinduja in April 1999; it found a direct link between these events and "the stages of execution of the Letters Rogatory in Switzerland. The charge-sheet asserts that such conduct by the three Hinduja brothers "shows that they are also conspirators along with M/s A.B. Bofors." The three Hinduja brothers, two of whom have become U.K. nationals and the third has reportedly acquired Swiss nationality, have defied the CBI's summons and have, in effect, kept away from the law. They have been unable to come to India to attend to their substantial business interests and other matters because the CBI would, without doubt, have knocked at their door and takes whatever action, under the law of the land, that it considered appropriate in the interests of its investigation. However, they have cleverly put their fourth brother Ashok Hinduja to regulate the business interest in India. The CBI has also had a 'look-out' notice issued against the three Hinduja brothers which meant that had they landed in India; immigration would have alerted the CBI about their arrival. Once the charges are framed by the Special Judge and the action moves decisively to a trial, it could be a new and even more worrying ball-game for the brothers from the standpoint of both personal and business interests. After the charges are framed, the CBI's leverage in making the intransigent accused submit themselves to the law of the land will increase considerably - with summons, warrants, legal sanctions against properties and business assets and extradition proceedings becoming theoretical possibilities and there could be a high cost to staying away notwithstanding the influence in high political places the Hinduja brothers are reputed to enjoy. It was during UPA1 rule that Hindujas managed to kill the case in Delhi High court. The Hinduja Brothers had access everywhere from Congress to BJP, to even regional parties like Samajwadi Party, to many journalists who purposely obscured their specific role and wrote only about unreachable foreign brokers.
In nutshell, Indian journalists concentrated on hazy, inaccessible foreign brokers and shut their eyes to the easily traceable links of Hinduja Brothers and AC Muthaiah’s role. It was somewhat similar to highlighting the responsibility of unreachable US citizen Anderson in the Union Carbide case, while whitewashing the criminally negligent role of local Indian group in the Bhopal Gas Tragedy. And, at last, CBI buried the Bofors case in 2008 by filing closure report when Ashwani Kumar was Director, who was close to Sonia Gandhi and died recently by committing suicide in mysterious circumstances. He was earlier Security In-charge of Sonia Gandhi when working in Special Protection Group (SPG). In 2008 Ashwani Kumar was brought in as CBI Director by Sonia Gandhi bypassing persons shortlisted for the post and having done his job, he got reward from his ultimate patron Sonia: the governorship of a state as a quid pro quo after retirement from CBI.
The subsequent behavior of successive Governments did indicate that while there is something to hide, they were not in agreement on what to hide. The Congress kept sheltering Quattrochi and the BJP was more intent on shielding the Hinduja brothers. The two roads crisscrossed and neither the truth prevailed nor did the law took its course. And to add the misery to the wound, the perpetrator has recently complained about the rotten system of India in an international magazine. It is clear that the middlemen have destroyed the transparency in governance and the system works according to the wimps and fancies of the “dalals”.
Opinion Express explained the players involved in the sabotages and why it is vital to expose middlemen and corporate Dalal’s and to delink politics from the subsequent investigation; it was an international conspiracy to desterilize the country via middlemen. The same practice is almost repeated in the Rafale fighter jet deal wherein the opponent pressed the accelerator to defame government and the middlemen continued to enjoy the cream.
The conspiracy, time line & Road Ahead:
The special investigation team has said that 'Rajiv Gandhi’s name appears not as a beneficiary but because as Prime Minister and defence minister, as he was involved in one of the swiftest government decisions ever of awarding a hefty defence contracts". One is at a loss to understand what was wrong in it. It was for the government and the defence ministry to decide how quickly they needed the equipment and simply because the government took a quick decision in clinching the deal, it does mean something was fishy about it. Generally, it is said that delay and the red tape leads to corruption but here SIT people strangely took a different view. R.C.Sharma who succeeded Joginder Singh as CBI chief has publicly remarked, there is no evidence to blame Rajiv to the Bofors pay-offs. The press has a view that Sharma was close to the Congress in general and Sonia in particular.
Especially in arms deals, agreements are signed between two countries but it is common practice that it is helped along the way by some individuals called middlemen or brokers who are generally expert negotiators. It was Rajiv Gandhi who insisted with the Bofors that no middlemen should be employed and Bofors issued the 'no middlemen' certificate to India. Rajiv earlier in his talk with Olaf Palme discussed the no middlemen condition with him and the Swedish Prime Minister gave his word on it. Later Olaf Palme was killed under mysterious circumstances and Rajiv went to Stockholm to attend the funeral of Palme. Then the new Prime Minister Ingvar Carlsson and told him that he had recorded his decision on the file approving the award of the contract for the Howitzer gun to Swedish company Bofors subject to certain certifications from the Swedish government regarding the financial terms of the contract. That all anybody received any money from Bofors, it was purely a legitimate business deal between that person and Bofors; and Rajiv was neither aware of it nor had he to do anything with it.
The Hindujas having a wide network of international business are also said to have a hand in the Bofors commission money. It was reported that the Swiss authorities have told CBI informally that the Hindujas made the mistake of channeling moneys from other deals through the same account into which the Bofors pay-offs was transferred. The Hindujas are worried that their Swiss account would expose many of their illegal gun deals in Iran and Contra Rebels. Therefore, since 1991, the Hindujas have been protecting their Bofors account by imposing legal hurdles in the form of appeals and so on.
From the maze of information available from the CBI investigations into Bofors scandal, one thing becomes clear that the Bofors paid money by way of commission or winding up charges to some intermediaries who had something to do professionally in such deals and the linking of Rajiv Gandhi's name in such transfer of money is a politically motivated attempt to tarnish his image and also to put hurdles in the purchase of necessary weaponry for the Indian Defence Services.
The Hindujas are among the alleged recipients of the pay-offs in the Bofors scam. The details of the Hinduja's Swiss account were released by the Swiss authorities in the second installment of papers but it was followed up with no action. AB Vajpayee was alleged to have close links with the Hinduja brothers, and it is said they have done intense international lobbying for Vajpayee to project his image. Vajpayee was the guest of honour at the inauguration in Mumbai of Indus-Ind Bank owned by the Hindujas. Earlier he had been a guest of honour at the Diwali banquet hosted by the Hinduja brothers in London. It was said Vajpayee often listens to Hindujas advice on the formulation of India's economic policy. No one seems to be worried about such connections but everybody linked Rajiv Gandhi with alleged receipt of money by Hinduja from Bofors. On the contrary, the probe should have also focused on Vajpayee Hinduja links to target Rajiv Gandhi. This relationship suited both: Vajpayee was politically rewarded and Hinduja got away from confirmed corruption case conviction. The Bofors scandal was a political ghost created by the international destabilisers of India. Later, some Indian politicians and a group of sensation mongering journalists gave it disproportionately demonic dimensions with a view to discredit Rajiv Gandhi. The final conclusion is emerging from the investigation that the middlemen in the deal were acting as the double agent; this is the conclusive outcome of the investigation. They certainly made money in the transaction and then conveniently shifted to other side to defame the political adversary by using selective leaks in the press from time to time and took business advantages from their new political masters.
Road ahead: Unlike the old Atal-Advani soft BJP, the present Narendra Modi led BJP government is relentless in dealing with white color criminals no matter how high and mighty. Apart from Ram Mandir movement, people’s anger on Bofors scandal and various scams of Congress era was significant factors for the surge of BJP. Given its unquestioned commitment to bringing about a corruption free India, it becomes the natural duty of this Government to undo the cover-ups in Bofors case. And the present government must think of setting up a SIT to investigate all the defence deals and purchases during UPA period 2004-2014 as the corruption was rampant during that time.
The Supreme Court has rejected the appeal of CBI in 2018 (citing the Swedish investigator’s revelations) with an advice to club the petition with the pending Ajay Agarawal case. It is imperative for the present Government to investigate the matter without any political witch-hunting and delinking the name of the Rajiv Gandhi from the process to avoid giving political colors to the investigation. The Bofors Scandal was exposed 33 years ago and Swedish Police gave box full documents 23 years ago to CBI. The country has waited for over three decades to know the truth of the matter that has ruined the political life of many prominent leaders and in the process has established new alternative leadership based on the “Bofors politics”. Today, the sanctity of the four pillars of democracy is in crisis because the process that started with the Bofors scandal has vitiated our democracy and spawned so many subsequent frauds and scams. One can't help wondering as to how many subsequent cases of corruption would have been avoided had the Bofors scam not provided a veritable template to the Kalmadis and Rajas that followed. The pride of 1.3 billion countrymen, our defence forces and their valour, demands a just and definitive denouement to this protracted murky saga of treachery to the nation. It is high time that CBI intervened in Ajay Agrawal’s petition in Bofors case pending before the Supreme Court with complete details of documents in the box given by Swedish Police in 1997 to reinvestigate the case and bring guilty to books. India must eradicate and punish “Dalals” from the system to leap bound herself at the global level and lead the new world order. The onus is on the present Narendra Modi government and hyper active Supreme Court of the country to order reinvestigation in the case without any political overtone and present correct facts to undo the damage done by middlemen by giving them exemplary punishment for breaking the backbone of the vital institutions of this glorious country. It will act as a strong deterrent to the operating middlemen community and certainly, it will clean the toxic system.
By Prashant Tewari Editor in Chief of Opinion Express with India’s most well-known Investigative journalist J Gopikrishnan.