Highly insidious cover-up; collective conspiracy of silence : Bofors

Published: Sunday, Apr 29,2012, 23:53 IST
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The Bofors ghost has resurfaced a quarter century after the April 16, 1987 revelations of kickbacks on Swedish state radio as former Swedish Police Chief Sten Lindstrom has said there was no evidence to suggest that former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had taken any bribe in the $ 1.3 billion gun deal, though he alleged that Gandhi "watched the massive cover-up" in India and Sweden and "did nothing."

Another damaging remark made by Lindstrom against Rajiv Gandhi in an interview to Chitra Subramaniam for a New Delhi-based website thehoot.org published on April 24, 2012 is as follows: "Ardbo, (Bofors managing director), had written in his notes that the identity of N (Arun Nehru) becoming public was a minor concern but at no cost could the identity of Q (Quattrochi) be revealed because of his closeness to R (Rajiv Gandhi)."

Lindstrom told the interviewer that the $1.3 billion deal with India for the sale of 410 field howitzers, and a supply contract almost twice that amount was the biggest arms deal ever in Sweden. "Money marked for development projects was diverted to secure this contract at any cost. Rules were flouted, institutions were bypassed and honest Swedish officials and politicians were kept in the dark," he said.

The former Swedish police chief was quite vocal about Quattrocchi’s involvement Sample his remarks: "The evidence against Ottavio Quattrrocchi was conclusive. Through a front company called A.E. Services, bribes paid by Bofors landed in Quattrocchi’s account which he subsequently cleaned out because India said there was no evidence linking him to the Bofors deal. Nobody in Sweden or Switzerland was allowed to interrogate him.

"Ardbo was terrified about this fact becoming public. He had hidden it even from his own marketing director Hans Ekblom who said marketing middlemen had a role, but not political payments. Ardbo was also concerned about the role of Arun Nehru who had told Bofors in 1985 that his name and Rajiv Gandhi’s name should not appear anywhere. As the stories began to appear, Ardbo knew what I knew. He had written in his notes that the identity of N (Nehru) becoming public was a minor concern but at no cost could the identity of Q (Quattrocchi) be revealed because of his closeness to R (Rajiv Gandhi). He had also mentioned a meeting between an A.E. Services official and a Gandhi trustee lawyer in Geneva. This was a political payment. These payments are made when the deal has to be inked and all the numbers are on the table. I spent long-hours interrogating Ardbo. He told me Nehru was the eminence grise but not much more. He said often that he would take the truth with him to his grave. I met him a little while before he passed away.

"Under pressure from Swedish and Indian media and with the threat of a cancellation of the contract hanging over them, Bofors sent its top executives to India with the one-point task of giving out the names. Nobody of any consequence received them."

Lindstrom gave a clean chit to Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan saying that the case against Bachchan and his family was planted in a Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter (DN) by Indian investigators.

Lindstrom acted as the whistleblower in the Bofors case and had leaked over 350 documents to Chitra Subramaniam who wrote dozens of investigative reports for various Indian newspapers. The documents, which included payment instructions to banks, open and secret contracts, hand written notes, minutes of meetings and Ardbo’s explosive diary, formed the basis for the first- ever transfer of secret bank documents from Switzerland to India.

Our Correspondent adds: Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley said, "Lindstrom’s interview confirms a ‘political payment’ was made. He admits there was conclusive evidence against Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi whose proximity to Gandhi family is well known."

He quoted from the Lindstrom interview that (Bofors Managing director Martin Ardbo was also concerned about the role of Arun Nehru who had told Bofors in 1985 that "his name and Rajiv Gandhi’s name should not appear anywhere".

In his interview, Lindstrom has said, "Ardbo knew what I knew. He had written in his notes that the identity of N (Nehru) becoming public was a minor concern but at no cost could the identity of Q (Quattrocchi) be revealed because of his closeness to R (Rajiv Gandhi). He had also mentioned a meeting between an AE Services official and a Gandhi trustee lawyer in Geneva. This was a political payment."

BJP spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad told reporters that the entire Government of India at that point of time was out to save Quattrocchi, including then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

The working of the Defence Ministry will come up for discussion and Jaitley will make a special intervention to raise the matter on that day. Jaitley also raised the matter at the BJP parliamentary Party meeting here on Wednesday.

The Congress has taken a selective view of Lindstrom’s statement on Bofors to exonerate Rajiv Gandhi, but remained evasive on the revelation that Amitabh Bachchan’s name was planted by Indian investigative agencies in the kickback case.

Khurshid ruled out the possibility of re-opening the case and along with Congress spokesman Rashid Alvi sought a public apology from all those especially Opposition BJP for misleading the country by making ‘wild allegations’ against Rajiv Gandhi for the past 25 years thereby tarnishing his image and hurting his family members.

However, on Rajiv soft pedaling the investigation to protect Quattrocchi, Alvi said that  the government cannot be blamed as CBI had filed case against the Italian businessman in courts of Italy, Malaysia and Argentina and all of them said that there was no case against him. "We have done our best, what more can be expected of us," he said.

On Amitabh’s name being planted, Alvi said that people and the law don’t take any decision on the basis of statement of one policeman. Relying on one person’s statement is not proper as nothing else has come out on the issue.

Rejecting the BJP’s demand for a fresh probe, Salman said that the government was not going to fall into the trap of opposition demanding a debate on an issue that is closed and buried.

"There was a detailed investigation and there were Supreme Court and High Court proceedings that took place and the decision that came endorsed those proceedings. I don’t think we can continue to reopen these issues... We don’t want a new chapter to be opened. The final decision of the Supreme Court should not be reopened," Khurshid said adding, "I don’t think we should continue for the rest of the life of the present generation of politicians to reopen this every few months.

What Lindstrom said

* (On Rajiv Gandhi’s role) There was no evidence that he had received any bribe. But he watched the massive cover-up in India and Sweden and did nothing. Many Indian institutions were tarred, innocent people were punished while the guilty got away. The evidence against Ottavio Quattrrocchi was conclusive.

* I was disappointed with the role of many senior journalists and politicians during that period. They muddied the waters.

* Many politicians who had come to my office claiming they would move heaven and earth to get at the truth if they came to power, fell silent when they held very important positions directly linked to the deal. What was shocking in the whole Bofors-India saga was the scale of political involvement in Sweden breaking all rules including those we set for ourselves. Bofors was a wake-up call for most Swedes who thought corruption happens only far away in Africa, South America and Asia.

Rajeev Sharma

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