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Delhi HC clears Rajiv Gandhi in Bofors case
S.S. Negi
Legal Correspondent

New Delhi, February 4
What could be a major boost to the Congress just before the General Election, the Delhi High Court in an important ruling in the politically sensitive Rs 64 crore Bofors pay-off case today gave a clean chit to the then Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, holding that there was no evidence to show that he or any public servant had got pecuniary benefits from Swedish company AB Bofors in the howitzer gun deal.

Mr Justice J.D. Kapoor gave the ruling on a petition by Europe-based Hinduja brothers, Srichand, Gopichand and Prakashchand, made accused by the CBI. They had challenged the Special Court’s order framing the charges of bribing public servants, criminal conspiracy, cheating and forgery, in an order passed on August 29, 2002.

Since the high court said that it had not found any evidence of public servants or Rajiv Gandhi getting bribe in the Rs 1,437 crore Bofors gun deal, it dropped the charges of bribing of public servants against the Hindujas under the provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act (PCA), read with the charges of criminal conspiracy (Section 120-B) and cheating (Section 420) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

The court, however, upheld the Special Judge’s order of framing the charges of cheating and criminal conspiracy against the Hindujas when dealt independently of the PCA and forgery against A.B. Bofors under Section 465 of the IPC for their allegedly “having made false documents”.

Justice Kapoor said the case for forgery, cheating and criminal conspiracy after the dropping of the charges of corruption and bribery under the PCA had to be dealt by the court of a Magistrate, and ordered the shifting of the case against the Hindujas and AB Bofors’ former chief Martin Ardbo and Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi to the Delhi Chief Metropolitan Magistrate.

Dealing with the question of evidence relating to public servants getting gratification or their misconduct, or misusing their official position to influence the deal, Justice Kapoor said: “There is no evidence on record to suggest that either Rajiv Gandhi or S.K. Bhatnagar used any direct or indirect influence on anybody, including the Technical Committee of Army Experts or the Negotiation Committee that comprised seven members...

“ no stretch of imagination the circumstances lead to even remote inference or suspicion about criminal misconduct by the public servants in abusing the official position,” the court said.

Unless complete nexus between the public servants, AB Bofors and commission agents was established, “the charges of bribe or illegal gratification or misuse of official position by them under the PCA provision read with Section 120B and Section 420 of the IPC are difficult to stand,” it said.

The CBI, which had chargesheeted the Hinduja brothers, Ardbo, Quattrocchi, former Defence Secretary S.K. Bhatnagar, AB Bofors’ agent Win Chadha, had placed the name of Rajiv in “Column-II as not sent for trial” in its chargesheet.

However, the charges in the case were so far framed only against the Hindujas as their trial was separated from the other accused because there was inordinate delay in securing extradition of Ardbo and Quattrocchi. During the pendency of the case, Chadha and Bhatnagar had also died.

The court said even on legal premise the trial against Rajiv Gandhi and Bhatnagar could not be proceeded against for their not being available to defend themselves on account of their death.

It, however, rejected the Hindujas’ petition for complete exoneration on the ground that they were middlemen for AB Bofors, which had allegedly paid Rs 64 crore as pay-off to brokers or its agents, saying there was a clear policy of the government from 1985 onwards that no middlemen would be allowed in defence deals.

The court also rejected the defence of Hindujas that the payment received by them in nine instalments from Bofors during the relevant period was not connected with the Bofors gun deal, holding this was “difficult” to be accepted at this stage. It has to be proved during trial by thorough examination of evidence and documents, including those relating to various secret Swiss bank accounts received by the CBI from Swiss authorities in 1999 and 2000.


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