The missing name in the Bofors corruption case
The disclosure by former Swedish Police Chief Sten Lindstrom on the Bofors investigations has surprised the Indians on many counts. He said that the Indian investigators, who made several trips to Sweden in search of evidence, never met the relevant officials there. He also said that the Indian media had been selective and partial in publishing the documents. The successive governments of India knew who the culprits were and yet chose to look the other way. And most curiously, the government agency supplied a list of names to be ‘planted‘ as suspects in the Bofors kickback scandal.
While Lindstrom said there was no direct evidence to link former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to the bribe money, in the same breath, he revealed the highly planned and executed cover-up plan to protect the name of Ottavio Quattrocchi, a close friend of Rajiv Gandhi through his wife Sonia, who is Quattocchi’s compatriot. There have been sixteen Directors of the CBI since the Bofors scam broke out. Not one of them ever spoke up about the case. And now that Lindstrom has, people are ‘questioning’ his timing.
The country also witnessed several non-Congress governments. V. P. Singh, in fact, had publicly vowed that he would bring the guilty to book within a hundred days of becoming prime minister. Again quoting Lindstrom, several politicians went to Sweden and sought information and promised to help investigations when they came to power, only to forget their promises later.
The role of the media also needs to be put through scanner. Chitra Subramanyam, the journalist who broke the story in the Indian media clearly stated that she was under pressure from her newspaper to build the story in a certain way. Lindstrom took the newspaper in which she worked by name and accused it of publishing valuable documents selectively and that too after several months of acquiring it. This in fact put him into serious trouble professionally as well as personally. The Indian media, that behaves like a bloodhound on corruption showed a cavalier attitude to this breaking story then and now.
In these columns we have mentioned the examples of smaller nations like the Philippines and Bangladesh, which have a better track record in punishing the guilty in positions of power — Ershad, the Marcos. In India, cases against politicians are never pursued to their logical conclusion. In that, our community of politicians stand together in a strong bond.
The latest expose from Lindstrom needs to be taken seriously because the nation has not got the answers to some of the questions that have come up repeatedly ever since the Bofors scam broke. They are: Under whose instructions was the cover-up done to protect certain names? Who helped Quattrocchi leave the country, by offering him safe passage? Quattrocchi was a novice as far as arms deal was concerned. Why did he go with Prime Minister to Sweden and how he got the introduction? Subsequent to the Bofors deal, Quattrocchi got at least sixty deals in India for Snamprogetti, an Italian oil and gas company (source Wikipedia). What was the source of his strength and power? Quattrocchi’s bank account in London was de-freezed and the Bofors case was closed in Indian courts citing an expenditure of more money by the exchequer than the bribe money.
An intriguing aspect of the Bofors discussions today is that the name of Sonia Gandhi who brought Quattrocchi into the Gandhi family is not being mentioned at all. Like the character in J K Rowling’s Harry Potter series, it appears she is the one who must not be named. Rajiv Gandhi is discussed, Arun Nehru gets dragged in. But not her.
Bofors has a strange story. It periodically rears its head and has tarnished the image, in varying degrees, of those who even remotely ‘touched’ it. One does not expect much from either the UPA or the CBI under it. It would take another government and another nerve to write the final chapter of this two-and-half decade long serial crime.