BANGALORE: One of India's biggest corruption scandals from the 1980s has resurfaced to tarnish the ruling Congress party and embolden an opposition that has paralysed the parliament with protests over graft allegations as the opposition vociferously demanded a fresh probe into the deal that has long haunted the Congress.
What is the Bofors scandal?
In 1987, a Swedish Radio broadcast reported that arms producer AB Bofors paid kickbacks to top Indian politicians, including the then PM Rajiv Gandhi, for selling artillery guns to the Indian Army. This transaction happened through an Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrrocchi.
When this news was carried by the Indian media, the Rajiv Gandhi-led government promptly denied the report. But the report was further followed up by The Hindu's correspondent Chitra Subramaniam.
As she started following up on the report, it was revealed that Rs 65 crore was paid to get the deal done.
Further investigations threw up the name of Ottavio Quattrocchi, a broker who rose to power owing to his proximity to the Gandhi family.
Under intense pressure from the Opposition, a Joint Parliamentary Committee was set up to probe the allegations on August 6, 1987. It submitted its report two years later.
With the Bofors kickbacks becoming a major poll issue, Rajiv Gandhi's Congress party was voted out of power in the 1989 general elections. In the same year, Prime Minister V.P. Singh's government barred Bofors from entering into any defence contract with India.
In 1990, the CBI registered a formal complaint in the Bofors case, following which Swiss authorities froze accounts of Svenska and AE Services, which allegedly received unauthorised commissions for the deal.
The Rajiv Gandhi assassination further slackened the investigation, which many say was the reason why Ottavio Quattrocchi was allowed to leave India.
After four years of legal wrangles, Swiss authorities submitted documents over 500 pages to Indian authorities. In 1997, CBI set up a special investigation team and filed cases against Rajiv Gandhi, Quattrocchi, Chadha, defence secretary S.K. Bhatnagar, former Bofors chief Martin Ardbo and the Bofors company.
In 2000, the Hinduja brothers' names cropped up in the investigation and CBI filed a supplementary chargesheet naming the brothers as accused. As a response, the Hindujas issued a statement saying that the funds they received from Bofors had no connection with the gun deal.
Investigations then suffered more setback when former defence secretary Bhatnagar and Win Chadha, two accused in the case, passed away. In 2004, the Delhi High Court cleared Rajiv Gandhi of his involvement in the scandal.
From thereon the case lost steam. The Indian government lost the plot completely when Quattrocchi, detained in Argentina, was released when Indian authorities failed to furnish details of the court order for his extradition.
In 2009, the government informed the Supreme Court about its decision to withdraw the case against Quattrocchi and in 2011, a Delhi court allowed the CBI to drop all charges against Quattrochhi and close the case.
Howver, the Bofors case returned to haunt the Congress when Swedish police chief Sten Lindstrom revealed that he was the Swedish Deep Throat, a key source of journalist Chitra Subramaniam-Duella. He further said there was no evidence of former Indian PM Rajiv Gandhi or Amitabh Bachchan in the Bofors pay-off scandal.
What is the Bofors deal all about?
India's defence ministry bought howitzers for its army's artillery units from Swedish manufacturer AB Bofors in March 1986 for Rs. 1,500 crore ($285 million).
What is a Bofors gun?
It is a 155mm 39-calibre field howitzer with a range of 25-30 km. The weapon system is operated by a six-member crew and can fire at the rate of 10 rounds per minute. The howitzer can be towed at a speed of 70 kmph, while the self-propelled version moves at eight kmph.
What was the quality of the gun?
The Bofors howitzers were used during the 1999 Kargil conflict with Pakistan and proved to be effective in pounding enemy-held positions with great accuracy.
What is the impact of the Bofors scandal?
The Bofors episode led to India reducing the order for the guns from the originally planned 1,500 to 410. Since then, India has not bought a single artillery gun, even though the army requires it. Proposals of the Indian Army to buy at least four types of guns are still stuck at various stages of procurement.
What is the future for the Bofors guns?
India has got the technical knowhow from the Swedish manufacturer to produce the guns within the country. But that plan too stands suspended for 25 years. Only recently, the government has asked the Ordinance Factory Board to upgrade the Bofors technology and produce guns to meet the army's needs.