The Bofors ghost is back after 12 years, with the Supreme Court on Friday posting the final hearing in the ₹ 64-crore payoff case in October.
A Bench, headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, agreed with BJP leader and advocate Ajay Kumar Agarwal that his appeal against the Delhi High Court May 31, 2005 judgement, quashing all charges against the Europe-based Hinduja brothers in the case, has been pending for long.
Mr. Agarwal has filed an application for early hearing.
The Chief Justice said the case would be listed in the week commencing October 8, 2017.
On October 18, 2005, the apex court admitted his petition, which was filed after the CBI failed to approach the court with the appeal within the 90-day deadline following the High Court verdict.
The hearing assumes significance in the wake of a demand in Parliament by ruling BJP MPs for the reopening of the probe into the Bofors kickback scandal after the media reports quoting Swedish chief investigator Sten Lindstrom’s suggested alleged bribery at the top level.
In the July 28 letter to the Enforcement Directorate (ED), he claimed that the alleged crimes were committed continuously till 2006, when two London accounts held by Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrochi, who was accused as being one of the middlemen in the deal, were de-freezed.
All charges against Hinduja brothers quashed
Justice R.S. Sodhi of the Delhi High Court, since retired, on May 31, 2005, quashed all charges against the Hinduja brothers — Srichand, Gopichand and Prakashchand — and the Bofors company and castigated the CBI for its handling of the case, saying it had cost the exchequer about Rs 250 crore.
Before the 2005 verdict, another judge of the Delhi High Court, Justice J.D. Kapoor (since retired) on February 4, 2004, exonerated late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in the case and directed the framing of the charge of forgery under Section 465 of IPC against the Bofors company.
The apex court on October 18, 2005 allowed Mr. Agrawal to file an appeal against the High Court verdict in the absence of any appeal by the CBI.
The ₹ 1,437-crore deal between India and Swedish company AB Bofors for the supply of 400 155mm Howitzer guns for the Indian Army was struck on March 24, 1986. The Swedish Radio, on April 16, 1987, claimed that the company paid bribes to top Indian politicians and defence personnel.
CBI registers FIR in 1990
On January 22, 1990, the CBI registered the FIR for the alleged offence of criminal conspiracy, cheating, forgery under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and other sections of the Prevention of Corruption Act against Martin Ardbo, then President of AB Bofors; alleged middleman Win Chadda and Hinduja brothers.
The CBI alleged that certain public servants and private persons in India and abroad had entered into a criminal conspiracy between 1982 and 1987 in pursuance of which the offences of bribery, corruption, cheating and forgery were committed.
The first charge sheet in the case was filed on October 22, 1999 against Chadda, Quattrocchi, then Defence Secretary S K Bhatnagar, Ardbo and the Bofors company. A supplementary charge sheet against the Hinduja brothers was filed on October 9, 2000.
On March 4, 2011, a special CBI court in Delhi discharged Quattrocchi from the case, saying the country cannot afford to spend hard-earned money on his extradition, the process of has already cost Rs. 250 crore.
Quattrocchi, who fled from New Delhi on July 29-30, 1993, never appeared before any court in India to face prosecution. He passed away on July 13, 2013.
The other accused persons who have died are Bhatnagar, Chadda and Ardbo.