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Bofors case: Supreme Court likely to hear plea tomorrow

LiveMint logoLiveMint 31-08-2017 PTI

New Delhi: The Supreme Court is likely to hear on Friday the politically sensitive Rs64 crore Bofors pay-off case, amidst recent media reports suggesting a financial quid pro quo for the Rs1,437 crore Howitzer gun deal in 1986.

A bench headed by chief justice Dipak Misra is scheduled to take up the plea by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader and advocate Ajay Kumar Agarwal, who had challenged the Delhi high court on 31 May 2005 judgement quashing all charges against the Europe-based Hinduja brothers in the case.

The apex court had on 18 October 2005 admitted his petition which was filed after the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) failed to approach the top court with the appeal within the 90-day deadline following the high court verdict. The hearing assumes significance in the wake of a demand in Parliament by ruling BJP MPs for reopening of the probe into the Bofors kickback scandal after the media reports quoting Swedish chief investigator Sten Lindstrom’s suggested the alleged bribery at the top level.

Agarwal, who had contested the Rai Bareli Lok Sabha elections in 2014 against Congress president Sonia Gandhi, had said he will also draw the attention of the apex court that he had written a letter to the Enforcement Directorate (ED) seeking investigation into the trail of the kickback money under the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA), 1999 and the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), 2002.

In the 28 July letter to the ED, he has claimed that the alleged crimes were committed continuously till the year 2006 when two London accounts held by Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrochi, who was accused as being one of the middlemen in the deal, were de-freezed.

The BJP leader had said he was writing a letter to the CBI asking it to file an affidavit about the facts and course of investigation in the case, as during the brief hearing on 1 December 2016, the agency had told the apex court that the authorities had not permitted it to file an appeal against the 31 May 2005 verdict.

Agarwal said he will try to convince the apex court through his petition that the “high court had quashed the charges against the accused persons on technical grounds and the order was totally perverse which is liable to be set aside.”

Justice R.S. Sodhi of the Delhi high court, since retired, had on 31 May 2005 quashed all charges against the Hinduja brothers—Srichand, Gopichand and Prakashchand—and the Bofors company and castigated the CBI for its handling of the case saying it had cost the exchequer about Rs250 crore.

Before the 2005 verdict, another judge of the Delhi high court, Justice J.D. Kapoor (since retired) on 4 February 2004, had exonerated late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in the case and directed framing of charge of forgery under Section 465 of Indian Penal Code (IPC) against the Bofors company. The matter was last listed on 28 February this year when it was adjourned.

The apex court had on 18 October 2005 allowed Agrawal to file an appeal against the high court verdict in the absence of any appeal by CBI. The 1 December 2016 hearing had taken place after a gap of almost six years since 12 August 2010. The Rs1,437 crore deal between India and the Swedish arms manufacturer AB Bofors for the supply of 400 155mm Howitzer guns for the Indian Army was entered on 24 March 1986. The Swedish Radio on 16 April 1987 had claimed that the company had paid bribes to top Indian politicians and defence personnel.

The CBI on 22 January 1990 had registered the FIR for the alleged offence of criminal conspiracy, cheating, forgery under the IPC and other sections of Prevention of Corruption Act against Martin Ardbo, the then president of AB Bofors, alleged middleman Win Chadda and 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.

The first charge sheet in the case was filed on 22 October 1999 against Chadda, Quattrocchi, then defence secretary S.K. Bhatnagar, 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 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 fled from here on 29-30 July 1993, has never appeared before any court in India to face prosecution. He passed away on 13 July 2013. The other accused persons who have died are Bhatnagar, Chadda and Ardbo.

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