The Bofors scandal was a major corruption scandal in India in the 1980s; the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and several others were accused of receiving kickbacks from Bofors AB for winning a bid to supply India’s 155 mm field howitzer. The scale of the corruption was far worse than any that India had seen before, and directly led to the defeat of Gandhi’s ruling Indian National Congress party in the November 1989 general elections.
The scandal was worth Rs 640 million (Rs. 64 crore).
The case came to light during Vishwanath Pratap Singh’s tenure as defence minister, and was revealed through investigative journalism by Chitra Subramaniam and N. Ram of the newspapers the Indian Express and The Hindu.
The name of the middleman associated with the scandal was Ottavio Quattrocchi, an Italian businessman who represented the petrochemicals firm Snamprogetti. Quattrocchi was close to the family of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and emerged as a powerful broker in the ’80s between big business and the Indian government.
Even while the case was being investigated, Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated on May 21, 1991 for an unrelated cause.
In 1997, the Swiss banks released some 500 documents after years of legal wrangling and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) filed a case against Quattrocchi, Win Chadha, also naming Rajiv Gandhi, the defence secretary S. K. Bhatnagar and a number of others. Several attempts to extradite Quattrocchi failed.
Meanwhile February 5, 2004 the Delhi High Court quashed the charges of bribery against Rajiv Gandhi and others, but the case is still being tried on charges of cheating, causing wrongful loss to the Government, etc. Win Chadha also died.
On May 31, 2005, the High court of Delhi dismissed the Bofors case allegations against the British business brothers, Shrichand, Gopichand and Prakash Hinduja.
In December 2005, the Mr B. Datta, the additional solicitor general of India, acting on behalf of the Indian Government and the CBI, requested the British Government that two British bank accounts of Ottavio Quattrocchi be de-frozen on the grounds of insufficient evidence to link these accounts to the Bofors payoff. The two accounts, containing € 3 million and $1 million, had been frozen in 2003 by a high court order by request of the Indian government (when the (now) opposition party BJP was in power). The accounts were de-frozen on January 11, 2006. He left India for Malaysia during the tenure of P V Narasimharao as the premier of India. India fought a long battle in the Malaysian courts to extradiate him in vain. On January 16, the Indian Supreme Court directed the Indian government to ensure that Ottavio Quattrocchi did not withdraw money from the two bank accounts in London. The CBI (Central Bureau Of Investigation), the Indian Federal law enforcement agency, on January 23, 2006 admitted that roughly Rs 21 crore, about USD $4.6 million, in the two accounts have already been withdrawn. The British Government released the funds based on a request by the Indian Government. At the time a Congress-led alliance was in power, and Sonia Gandhi, as President of the Congress Party, faced considerable criticism for this sudden volte face by the Indian government.
However, on January 16, 2006, CBI claimed in an affidavit filed before the Supreme court that they were still pursuing extradition orders for Ottavio Quattrocchi. The Interpol, at the request of the CBI, has a long standing red corner notice to arrest Quattrocchi.
Quattrocchi was detained in Argentina on 6 February 2007, but the news of his detention was released by the CBI only on 23 February, stoking claims that it may have been suppressed by the ruling Congress government because of state elections.
February 26: Quattrocchi has been released by Argentinian police. However, his passport has been impounded and he is not allowed to leave the country.
There is no extradition treaty between India and Argentina. Government of India lost this extradition case and decided not to appeal against the decision in the Argentinian Surpreme Court.