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Bofors gun scam rocks Indian parliament

Publication Date : 27-04-2012

 

The nearly 25-year-old Bofors gun scam yesterday again rocked the Indian parliament as, armed with fresh ammunition, an aggressive opposition disrupted both Houses, alleging a “cover-up” and demanding a new probe into the scandal by a judicial commission. 

The Bofors scandal in 1980 is one of the biggest scandals in India, where many were accused of receiving kickbacks from a company called Bofors AB who won a bid to supply India’s howitzers for the armed forces.

The opposition, seizing on the latest revelations by the ex-Swedish Police chief Sten Lindstrom, raked up the issue in both Houses, saying the Bofors chapter was not closed yet and it required a further probe. This led to an intense exchange of verbal fire with agitated Congress members, leading to frequent adjournments.

The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government has already made it clear that the Bofors case will not be reopened as it had already witnessed judicial determination by the country’s higher courts. 

In a recent interview, Lindstrom, who had led the Bofors kickbacks investigations in Sweden, said there was no evidence to suggest that the then Prime Minister, the late Rajiv Gandhi, had taken a bribe in the Bofors deal. He, however, said Rajiv had turned a blind eye to the "cover-up" to protect the principal Bofors kickbacks accused, Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi, against whom there was “conclusive evidence”. Quattrocchi was said to be close to the Rajiv Gandhi family. 

In the Lok Sabha, senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Jaswant Singh called the Bofors case “a saga of continuing corruption” and said it was a “thorn” that needed to be removed.  

He demanded the constitution of a judicial commission to probe the scandal afresh even as he admitted to the failure of the previous NDA government, in which he was external affairs minister, to get Quattrocchi extradited to India from Malaysia. 

Posing several questions, he asked why “political” donations in the Bofors deal were paid to the account of AE Services, a company owned by Quattrocchi.  “How can it (donations) be political in nature when it went to a businessman...We must know what his political purpose was.” 

Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) leader Basudeb Acharya also demanded the reopening of the Bofors case, institution of an independent inquiry and extradition of Quattrocchi. 

In the Rajya Sabha, the Leader of the opposition, Arun Jaitley, said there were "repeated efforts to cover up” the Bofors scandal. “The fact is clear. Somebody got the contract and somebody got the kickback...This man (Quattrocchi) is so powerful. (The) entire Indian state appeared so helpless...This is a textbook illustration of fraud,” Jaitley said. He said the fate of the Bofors case in which nobody could be nailed even after 25 years is a “serious reflection on the health of our investigating process”. 

As Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar rose to take on Jaitley, opposition members created a disruption, drowning out his bid to speak. He, however, said: “The reason why we could not unearth the truth is because the pursuit of truth began with a series of untruths.” 

CPI-M leader Sitaram Yechury said the Bofors scandal has “plagued” the country for more than two decades. “It has deeply impacted the country...the issue is of probity... even today there is a big question mark on defence deals. The whistleblower has formally said something. The government must investigate it properly,” he said. 

Outside Parliament, the battle continued to rage. Alleging political designs behind the opposition raking up the Bofors issue, the Congress accused it of levelling “baseless and irresponsible” allegations.

The party also asked the BJP and other opposition parties why they could not crack the Bofors case during the 10 years of their various regimes since the scandal broke in 1987. “Whenever elections start approaching, such issues are raised. Unfortunately a trend of levelling irresponsible allegations has begun in the country. The opposition, especially BJP and its outfits, is responsible for it,” Congress general secretary Janardan Dwivedi said. Union minister Kapil Sibal said: "Obviously there is some work in tandem going on between Lindstrom and the storm in Parliament."

 

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