New Delhi, July 21 (IANS) The death of Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi might have brought the curtains down on the Bofors payoff controversy, but a new government can reopen the case because some of the accused related to the case are still alive, says a former CBI director who brought back box-loads of papers relating to the case that had led to the fall of the Rajiv Gandhi government.
"The death of Quattrocchi has certainly brought the curtains down on the Bofors scam but a new government can reopen the case as the Hinduja brothers and Quattrocchi's wife, Maria, are still alive," Joginder Singh, who was headed the Central Bureau of Investigation in 1996-97, told IANS.
It was he who had served Letters Rogatory regarding Quattrocchi, a formal request from a court to a foreign court for judicial assistance.
"Quattrocchi died of heart stroke in Milan on July 13. And, almost all the accused in the Rs.64 crore (1987 figures) kickback case are dead. Middleman Win Chadha and Bofors chairman Martin Ardbo are already dead, but the scam can be reopened," Joginder Singh maintained.
He, however, would not go into specifics of how the case could be reopened, considering that the Delhi High Court has exonerated both former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi and the Hinduja brothers and the CBI itself has closed the case.
"Best course is to consult a lawyer as I have no law degree," he said.
Joginder Singh said Maria Quattrocchi was among the accused in the Bofors case as in 2003 Interpol got two bank accounts in London held by her and Quattrocchi, that contained millions of dollars, frozen.
He said that the Bofors' inquiry could reach "some conclusion" if a new government starts quizzing the Hinduja brothers and Maria Quattrocchi. But the process "should be above politics" because with every change in government the "case suffers", he said.
Recalling the Bofors case that brought down Rajiv Gandhi's government in 1989, Joginder Singh said the controversy erupted in 1987 after Swedish Radio reported that Bofors had paid a bribe to secure a contract from the Indian Army for the 155mm artillery guns called howitzers.
"But due to the Congress party being in power, neither was the case registered in India at the time nor was India ready to help the Swedish government in its investigations," Joginder Singh said.
According to him, when the Swedish government requested for help in the probe, the Indian government said it was investigating the case and thus couldn't help anyone.
"The Bofors case was registered in 1990 by the CBI when the National Front government led by V.P. Singh was in power. But since 1990 to 1996 the agency could only question some of the suspects, and in the six years the questioning was done only four times. In that time, the case kept moving at a very slow pace as the Congress government was in power from 1991 to 1996," Joginder Singh said.
"In 1996, the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led Bharatiya Janata Party government came to power for 16 days and the case got a push again. In the meantime, I was selected as the director of CBI. In my one year tenure I collected all documents related to Bofors and served the Letters Rogatory," he said.
But, Joginder Singh explained, when he asked the then government on May 10, 1997, to sanction the permission for the Letters Rogatory, advocate Ram Jethmalani objected in court, saying that this could not be allowed without a Central Vigilance Commission (CVC).
Joginder Singh said in 1999, when the BJP-led NDA government came to power, the CBI filed its chargesheet naming Quattrocchi as the conduit for the Bofors bribe.
"Amid these ups and downs, the Delhi High Court in 2004 quashed the charges of bribery against Rajiv Gandhi and others citing inadequate evidence. And finally the major chapter of Bofors saga was closed in March 2011 when the CBI withdrew the case," he said.
The Delhi High Court had in May 2005 also cleared the Hinduja brothers of involvement in the case.
The former director says he still hopes the case would be reopened some day.
(Rajnish Singh can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)