A Brief History of the Bofors Scandal

May 7, 2009

Last week the CBI removed Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrochi from its wanted list, and removed the Interpol Red Corner notice against him. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh soon supported this decision saying that the case had become an embarrassment for the government.

“It is not a good reflection on the Indian legal system that we harass people while the world says we have no case”[link]

That’s pretty much a public apology from the great nation of India to a man who never was cleared of the corruption charges against him. Bend over Bow in subservience, India!

The thing is, the CBI hasn’t really done a great job with this case. Their attempts to get Quattrochi extradited to India were rejected in Malaysia and Argentina, with the judges noting that the CBI never presented its case properly.

Not saying anything, but this gives the impression that the CBI did a sham job at getting him extradited. Maybe someone didn’t want Quattrochi to come to India?

Bofors-155mm Howitzer

Let’s start with some history on the Bofors scandal, which remains till date one of the biggest scandals in Indian politics.

It all started when India decided to purchase 400 155mm Howitzers (fancy word for really-big-kickass-gun) from Swedish company Bofors AB for $1.4 billion in 1986.

In 1987 the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and several others were accused of receiving kickbacks for this deal.

Ottavio Quattrochi was a businessman close to the Gandhi family and a prominent man in the hallowed passages of Indian government. His name came up as the middleman in this deal.

The Bofors scandal was huge. Rajiv Gandhi lost the 1989 elections due to the backlash of these allegations.

Other accused included the Hinduja brothers and Win Chaddha, an agent of the Bofors company. (Hi! My name is win. I am here to win your contract!)

Chaddha died in 2001. Gandhi was assassinated in 1991, and was cleared of the corruption charges against him in 2004. In 2005, the charges against the Hinduja brothers were dismissed by the Delhi High court.

The Wikipedia page on Quattrochi throws up some interesting information about the amount of clout he used to enjoy.

From roughly 1980 to 1987 - Indira Gandhi’s final years and Rajiv Gandhi’s honeymoon years - Quattrocchi had the Midas touch. No deal was refused to him. “It was understood,” remembers a Congressman from the original Mrs G’s days, “that a fertiliser contract meant Snamprogetti. That was considered the favour to Sonia and Rajiv.” [link]

It is alleged Quattrocchi was so influential with the office of the prime minister — Rajiv Gandhi — that bureaucrats used to stand up when Quattrocchi visited them.[link]

In 2002 a Malaysian court refused extraditing Quattrochi to India, observing that the offenses alleged against him were open to doubt.

Dismissing India’s review petition for his extradition, Justice Augustine Paul of Kuala Lumpur High Court upheld the Sessions Court verdict earlier this month throwing out the extradition case on the ground that the descriptions of the offenses in the requisition papers were “insufficient, vague and ambiguous.” While discharging Quattrocchi unconditionally, the Sessions Court on December 2 had also ordered return of his passport and the bail. [link]

The CBI chief PC Sharma attributed the failure to the fact that they were in a foreign country and had to present the case through a foreign lawyer. Maybe they should start training multi-lingual Indian lawyers? Malaysian ones are apparently no good.

In December 2005 the Indian government de-froze Quattrochi’s bank accounts on grounds of insufficient evidence to link those accounts to the Bofors payoff. A month later the Supreme court directed the government to ensure that money was not withdrawn from those accounts. It was too late by then. Rs 21 crore ($4.6 mn) had already been withdrawn from the accounts.

Quattrochi was arrested in Argentina in February 2007. The CBI tried to get him extradited to India, but their plea was rejected by the Argentinian courts. The CBI had the option of appealing to a higher court, but  it failed to get a clearance from the center. We wonder why that would be.

The judge noted that the CBI did not even present proper legal documents for Quattrochi’s extradition, which led to their request getting rejected. Besides, the Indian government’s decision to de-freeze Quattrochi’s bank accounts did not really add credence to their request. Watch a video report here.

Over more than two decades the case has dragged on like an Energizer bunny, with no end in sight. For some involved parties the case ended with death, some were cleared of charges, but the scandal lives on.

Strangely enough, you can’t attribute it all to the Congress. The Congress may have had an interest in this case, but we have had some non-Congress governments  too during these past twenty years that have allowed this drama to carry on, culminating with Manmohan Singh’s government’s farewell gift to Mr Quattrochi.

Reminds us of that movie by the name of Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron. The last scene - where all the politicians (and media persons) get together to come up with a deal that gives them all a piece of the pie. The loser in the entire deal? The Common Man.

Our Prime Minister says that this case is an embarrassment to the government. We cant help wonder who the real embarrassment is.

Also see:

Blame it on Bofors
Bofors Scandal chronology - Feb 2007
Just who is Ottavio Quattrochi  - Jan 2006
PM Defends Quattrochi

(Image courtesy: indipepal.com)

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14 Responses to “ A Brief History of the Bofors Scandal ”

  1. Philip on May 8, 2009 at 1:34 am

    Vir Sanghvi has done a post mortem of the Bofors case here.


  2. Vinod Sharma on May 8, 2009 at 1:43 am

    This case is a classic example of the power and reach of India’s first family. Let us be clear about one thing. Had Bofors reached where apparently the money did, it would turned India’s political landscape on its head and the Congress orphaned.

    Vir Sanghvi is no journalist; he is nothing more than a paid you-know-what. I used to write about the dishonest nonsense that he sells but have stopped now. There is no point; the lack of worth and integrity of such guys is there to be seen by all but the totally blind.

  3. Smitha on May 8, 2009 at 2:22 pm

    I honestly don’t know what to say.. Though the fact that the govt managed to push this through in the last few days of its term, should tell us something..
    As you say, it makes one wonder who and what the real embarrasment is!

  4. kavi on May 8, 2009 at 11:40 pm

    The Bofors case just refuses to die down. And such cases are so rampant, prevelant and instituted in the indian political class that these can become effective benchmarks !

    And it isnt as though there arent other cases. There are much bigger ones. Done by small time politicians to the big dadas. But Bofors per se perhaps captured the nations imagination of how big and brazen the political class could be.

    And so, for that reason, it will live on.

  5. amlistening on May 9, 2009 at 1:09 pm

    I use to always wonder what the big deal about Bofors is! but never got the time and patience to understand the whole story :)
    News and papers over the period of time lose the reference. This is sure a good synopsis of it all. Thanks for putting this up. Would you like to do similar writeups on Hawala, Fodder and other long running scams. Btw i assume Bofor Guns were good and did not turn out to be like MIG-21s

    • honest on November 8, 2012 at 9:24 am

      BOFORS- 25 years later!

      Lets play connect the dots-as the below are just random facts that may or may not be connected;-)
      brought to you by an insider that just discovered that truth is God!

      1) ARUN NEHRU is the prime suspect for money laundering in the Bofors case: http://www.rediff.com/news/mar/13mani2.htm

      2) Arun Nehru kept this Bofors money safe in his swiss bank account in Geneva

      3) Fast forward a few years and Arun Nehru’s son-in-law is running a hedge fund in New York City, even though he has no experience nor any education beyond 12th grade unless you call a BSc degree bought from Osmania University -an education?

      4) Over 95% of the money that is in this fund run being Nehru’s Son-in- Law, is from this prominent Swiss bank. Why would this savvy Swiss bank invest in a no name fund run by a no name manager with no track record? Sweet Coincidence? Huzzah!

      5) The name of the company changes from Neptune to Brahma Capital and today it is run as Brahma Management with strong project links to DLF

      6) Life is good! http://www.verveonline.com/44/life/epistle.shtml

  6. R.D.B. on May 11, 2009 at 11:50 am

    Thanx for this synopsis on Bofors.
    Sadly this parting “Gift” of DR.Manmohan’s Govmt. to Mr Quattrochi is infact a public mockery and disgusting display of power and influence of the “chosen one” on Indian politics and itz future..

  7. amreekandesi on May 12, 2009 at 1:21 pm

    @Philip - Thanks for the link. Interesting read that writeup by Vir Sanghvi, though it seems a bit biased to me.

    @Vinod - I share your thoughts completely. Though this seems to be a trend with such political scandals - no one has ever been punished out of such a scandal. Its like all parties have some sort of compromise where they agree to keep all the skeletons safely in the closet, except for election time.

    @Smitha - Yes. It is disturbing to see our Prime Minister issue such statements.

    @Kavi - Well said!

    @Amlistening - From what i know the Bofors gun were pretty good. I actually am considering starting a series on historical events and personalities. Hopefully that will be useful to readers.

    @RDB - Yup there’s too many dots that just don’t connect here!

  8. […] A Brief History of the Bofors Scandal | AmreekanDesi 7 May 2009 … Last week the CBI removed Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrochi from its wanted list, and removed the Interpol Red Corner notice against … amreekandesi.com/…/a-brief-history-of-the-bofors-scandal/ - Cached - Similar […]

  9. goerge albert on September 15, 2010 at 6:15 pm

    any idea about the amount FLEECED and the amount SPENT by the investigation team?

    the “white elephants” live on

  10. karan on January 4, 2011 at 11:01 pm

    the bofor scandal is a great shame for a indian government.
    a rajiv gandhi and a quttarchi both have equally involved in the scandal.
    it`s about 200 crore loss to the government.
    india is not a poor country, these scandals make this country poor.

  11. […] Quattrocchi from its wanted list in 2009, and removed the interpol notice against him. Read my earlier post on this […]

  12. He who must not be named on July 5, 2011 at 10:04 pm

    Whoa! that write-up ended up being very interesting thanks a bunch. “The nation which forgets its defenders will be itself forgotten.” by Calvin Coolidge..

  13. Indian on October 11, 2012 at 7:33 pm

    If you really do’t want to go to jail then be a politician or their relative. You can commit the biggest crime (kill,rape, loot, cheat) and be not even named for doing it if you are in the system. And this is what we call democracy here. Banana demo-shit!

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