The Bofors scandal is an example of a genuine case being sabotaged by a government run by a party that has a lot to hide, says former CBI chief RK Raghavan, placing the “guilt” of the case not succeeding in court on those that controlled the agency in the 1990s and in 2004-2014.
The corruption scam, which led to the fall of the Rajiv Gandhi-led Congress government in 1989, related to alleged kickbacks in the Rs 1,437 crore howitzer gun deal signed in 1986 with Swedish arm manufacturer Bofors. It was alleged that the Swedish company paid nearly Rs 64 crore as bribe to politicians, Congress leaders and bureaucrats.
In his autobiography “A Road Well Travelled”, Mr Raghavan, who investigated the case as director of the Central Bureau of Investigation from January 4, 1999 to April 30, 2001, writes scathingly about the role of the Congress but also says it is difficult to confirm whether the payments were actually meant for the party.
Former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi was also implicated in the case.
“It is possible some of the payments were meant for the Congress party. It is difficult, however, to confirm this,” he adds in his upcoming memoirs.
“The Bofors case will remain an example of how a genuine case can be deliberately sabotaged by a government run by a party which has a lot to hide from the public. The guilt here rested squarely on the shoulders of those who controlled the CBI in the 1990s and later during 2004-14,” writes Mr Raghavan.
While Congress leader P V Narasimha Rao was prime minister from 1991-96, it was in power from 2004 to 2014 too with Manmohan Singh at the helm. The minority government headed by Chandra Shekhar for a brief period from November 1990 to June 1991 was formed with outside support from the Congress.
Referring to the preliminary enquiry registered by the CBI under the Rajiv Gandhi-led government in 1988, Mr Raghavan argues that it was done because of the “huge public furore created by the Swedish Radio and (national daily) Hindu disclosures”.
“The government led by Rajiv Gandhi had no option but to do a thorough investigation, even if it meant an unobtrusive “operation whitewash”,” he writes.
Mr Raghavan was in-charge of security at Sriperumbudur, Tamil Nadu, where Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated in 1991. The 79-year-old — who also handled high-profile investigations, including the 2000 South Africa cricket-match fixing, the “fodder scam” and the 2002 Gujarat riots — blames certain “questionable judicial rulings” and “judicial insensitivity” for the fizzling out of the Bofors case.
“… The deceit and power of those who made money dishonestly was humongous. That they were able to successfully cover up their tracks is a sad commentary on our criminal justice system. The judiciary at the middle level was a willing accomplice, and its “holier than thou” claim here was almost a charade,” writes Mr Raghavan, under whose stewardship the CBI filed its first chargesheet in October 1999.
The chargesheet, which he calls “controversial and momentous”, named Rajiv Gandhi as an “accused not sent for trial” — because he was no longer alive — along with Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi, former defence secretary S.K. Bhatnagar, NRI businessman Wisheshwar Nath Chaddha alias Win Chaddha, the gun-manufacturing company AB Bofors and its then boss Martin Ar
The Delhi High Court in February 2004 quashed charges against Gandhi and Bhatnagar. The following year, in May 2005, the same court quashed all charges against the Hinduja brothers, also accused in the case, and others under the Prevention of Corruption Act.
Later, in 2011, a special CBI court discharged Quattrocchi from the case, saying the country could not afford to spend hard-earned money on his extradition which had already cost Rs 250 crore. The Supreme Court in 2018 dismissed CBI’s appeal for further probe in Bofors case saying grounds of delay are not justified.
Though conceding that the CBI could have acted faster and was “tardy” in its procedures, Mr Raghavan defends it too and says it faced “several constraints and obstacles”.
According to Mr Raghavan, a Tamil Nadu cadre IPS officer who did a stint as India’s high commissioner to Cyprus, the CBI “needed the nod of either the External Affairs Ministry or Department of Personnel or the Law Ministry” for every step in the matter of approaching the governments and courts of other countries, such as Switzerland, Malaysia and Argentina.
“This was compounded by the perceived apathy of the Narasimha Rao government to the task of ensuring the speedy process in the CBI investigation. For instance, just before the CBI decided to arrest Quattrocchi, it is conjectured that he was tipped off by a senior member of the government, whereupon he fled the country and escaped from the long arm of the law,” he explains.
On the question of whether there was evidence of any payment made directly to Rajiv Gandhi, he writes that his emphatic response has remained the same: “There was not the slightest evidence to this effect”.
But he asserts that the big question was, “and is”, with regards to money received by Quattrocchi and the Hindujas, both known for links with the Gandhi family.
Published by Westland, the 213-page “A Road Well Travelled: An Autobiography” is priced at Rs 599. It chronicles Mr Raghavan’s rise through the ranks of the nation’s protectors and gatekeepers, “his machinations in the corridors of power, and spiritual, personal, and political encounters overseas”, said a statement from the publishers.
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