The Supreme Court will take up for hearing in October a petition challenging the Delhi High Court order dismissing the Rs 64-crore Bofors payoff case nearly 12 years after it was filed. A bench headed by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, before whom it was listed on Friday, said it will give a detailed hearing to the matter in the second week of October. The petition challenging the May 31, 2005 Delhi High Court order dismissing charges against three Hinduja brothers, Srichand, Gopichand and Prakashchand, and Swedish arms manufacturer AB Bofors was filed by BJP leader Ajay K Agrawal on September 19, 2005.
The petitioner contended that he had filed it in public interest as the CBI had refused to challenge the High Court order within the period of limitation which ended on September 17, 2005. “…Law ministry has not given permission to file special leave petition to the CBI despite the totally illegal and lacking jurisdiction order of Delhi High Court dated May 31, 2005, and the CBI was having clinching evidence against the accused persons in the Bofors scam,” Agarwal said in his application seeking an early hearing.
The apex court had granted the leave to appeal on October 18, 2005 and, accordingly, the CBI was served on November 11, the petition said adding it was after this that the then Additional Solicitor General B Dutta went to London to get the accounts of accused businessman Ottavio Quattrochi defreezed.
The scandal which relates to alleged corruption in the purchase of 155-mm howitzers for the Army from Swedish arms manufacturer AB Bofors came to light after Swedish Radio claimed in April 1987 that AB Bofors had paid bribes to top Indian politicians and defence personnel to clinch the deal for supply of 400 guns. CBI took up the probe and an FIR was lodged in January 22, 1990 against Martin Ardbo, the then President of AB Bofors, alleged middleman Win Chadda and three Hinduja brothers accusing them of criminal conspiracy, cheating and forgery under the Indian Penal Code and other sections of Prevention of Corruption Act.
The first chargesheet 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 was filed against Hinduja brothers on October 9, 2000. After several twists and turns in the lower courts, Justice R S Sodhi of the Delhi High Court had finally quashed the charges against the accused in the case in May 2005. Though the CBI had mooted a proposal to file appeal against the HC verdict, the then Additional Solicitor General advised against this.
Later in March 2011, a special CBI court discharged Quattrocchi from the case. The Italian businessman had, however, fled the country in July 1993 and never returned to face prosecution. He passed away on July 13, 2013. Bhatnagar, Chadha and Ardbo, too, passed away in the meanwhile. Though CBI named Rajiv Gandhi in the original chargesheet, he was never sent up for trial as he was assassinated in 1991. In February 2004, Justice J D Kapoor of the Delhi High Court said no corruption case was made against any public servant. This meant that the bribery charges against Rajiv and Bhatnagar stood quashed.
The court also said no corruption charges could be made out against the Hinduja brothers leaving only cheating and consipiracy charges against them and that of fabrication of evidence against Bofors. Petitioner Ajay Agrawal contested against Sonia Gandhi from Rae Bareli in 2014 on a BJP ticket and garnered 1.73 lakh votes.