A plea was on Friday made in the Supreme Court for giving a specific date for hearing the petition in the politically sensitive Rs 64-crore Bofors pay-off case. A bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra did not pass any order when a mention was made for giving a early date of hearing on the appeal filed by an advocate-cum-politician Ajay Agrawal.
The apex court on September 1 had posted for hearing in the week beginning October 30 the 12-year-old appeal filed by Agarwal, who had contested the Lok Sabha elections in 2014 from Rai Bareli against Congress President Sonia Gandhi. However, the matter did not come up for hearing as the CJI was heading a Constitution bench in the week that followed.
The apex court had on October 18, 2005 admitted Agarwal’s petition which was filed after the CBI failed to approach the top court with the appeal within the 90-day deadline following the May 31, 2005 Delhi High Court verdict quashing charges against the Europe-based industrialists, the Hinduja brothers.
Meanwhile, citing media reports that the CBI had sought Attorney General K K Venuopal’s opinion on the issue of filing a separate appeal in the case, the BJP leader has shot off a letter to the top law officer requesting that the probe agency should be asked to respond to his criminal appeal and clarify its stand through an affidavit in the top court.
He had earlier written a letter addressed to CBI Director Alok Verma that instead of filing an appeal against the high court judgement, the agency should clarify its stand through an affidavit in the top court. He has said that filing of a fresh appeal by the CBI would delay the matter which is coming up for hearing. Justice R S Sodhi of the Delhi High Court, since retired, had on May 31, 2005 quashed all charges against the three Hinduja brothers — Srichand, Gopichand and Prakashchand — and the Bofors company and had castigated the CBI for its handling of the case, saying it had cost the exchequer about Rs 250 crore.
There has been demand in Parliament by ruling BJP MPs for reopening the probe into the Bofors kickback scandal after media reports quoting Swedish chief investigator Sten Lindstrom suggested alleged bribery at the top level. Before the 2005 verdict of Justice Sodhi, another judge of the Delhi High Court, Justice J D Kapoor (since retired), on February 4, 2004 had exonerated late prime minister Rajiv Gandhi in the case and directed the framing of the charge of forgery under section 465 of the IPC against the Bofors company.
The Rs 1,437-crore deal between India and Swedish arms manufacturer AB Bofors for the supply of 400 155mm Howitzer guns for the Indian Army was entered into on March 24, 1986. Swedish Radio on April 16, 1987, had claimed that the company had paid bribes to top Indian politicians and defence personnel.
The CBI on January 22, 1990 had registered the FIR for alleged offences of criminal conspiracy, cheating and forgery under the Indian Penal Code and other sections of the Prevention of Corruption Act against Martin Ardbo, the then President of AB Bofors, alleged middleman Win Chadda and the Hinduja brothers.
It had 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 chargesheet in the case was filed on October 22, 1999, against Chadda, Ottavio Quattrocchi, then defence secretary S K Bhatnagar, Ardbo and the Bofors company. A supplementary charge sheet was filed against the Hinduja brothers on October 9, 2000.
A special CBI court in Delhi on March 4, 2011, had discharged Quattrocchi from the case saying the country could not afford to spend hard-earned money on his extradition which had already cost Rs 250 crore. Quattrocchi, who fled from here 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.