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Lawyer pursuing Bofors case in SC questions CBI move on appeal

Press Trust of India, Oct 22 2017, 18:48 IST
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 high court verdict. DH File Photo

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 high court verdict. DH File Photo

An advocate-cum-politician, who has been pursuing the politically-sensitive Rs 64-crore Bofors pay-off case in the Supreme Court, has questioned the move of the CBI to appeal against a Delhi High Court decision quashing charges against the Europe-based industrialists, the Hinduja brothers.

The apex court on September 1 had posted for hearing in the week beginning October 30 the 12-year-old appeal filed by advocate and BJP leader Ajay Agarwal, who had contested the Lok Sabha elections in 2014 from Rai Bareli against Congress President Sonia Gandhi.

Agarwal, who lost the election, has said in a letter addressed to CBI Director Alok Verma that instead of filing an appeal against the high court judgement, the agency should respond to his criminal appeal and clarify its stand through an affidavit in the top court.

He has said that filing of a fresh appeal by CBI would delay the matter which is coming up for hearing.

"I don't know who has advised CBI to do this but certainly it is ill advised and it is not a prudent step of the CBI and it could delay the matter for a long time," he said in his letter yesterday.

The letter to the CBI has come in the wake of the recent claims by American private detective Michael Hershman, who has alleged that the then Rajiv Gandhi-led Congress government had sabotaged his investigation.

The CBI recently said it would look into the "facts and circumstances" of the Bofors scam as claimed by Hershman, who is the president and CEO of US-based private detective firm Fairfax, and has claimed in recent television interviews that Rajiv Gandhi was "furious" when he (Hershman) found a Swiss bank account code named "Mont Blanc".

Agarwal has written to the CBI against its decision to seek the permission of the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) to file an appeal against the high court's 2005 order, saying such a step would further delay the hearing in the matter.

He has requested the CBI director to look into the possibility of filing an affidavit on his appeal in which notices had been issued to all the respondents, including the agency, in 2005.

He said the news had come on August 10 that the CBI was going to support his criminal appeal in the Supreme Court and that was "a welcome step". He had written letters on August 14 and before that on August 3, stating that the CBI should file a detailed reply in his appeal.

He further said the CBI should clarify its stand before the apex court in writing and also issue a statement that a total of Rs 4.77 crore was spent on the entire probe into the case according to an RTI reply given to him by the agency on March 21, 2011, and not Rs 250 crore as was "erroneously mentioned" in the high court judgement of May 31, 2005.

"In these circumstances, I herewith request you that instead of filing SLP (special leave petition), the CBI must file an affidavit immediately in my criminal appeal, may be a short one, and state everything with documentary evidence, which the CBI desires to raise in the SLP," he said in his letter.

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.

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 high court verdict.

The top court's September 1 order on the plea seeking an early hearing of the appeal assumes significance in the wake of a 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 charge sheet 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.

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