After the Swedish Radio blew the whistle on the scandal in April 1987, the CBI was used (during Rajiv’s time) to pursue a sham investigation. Then when the Swedish Audit Bureau report showed the payments of large sums of money into Swiss bank accounts of shady middlemen, a pliant JPC was used to give a ridiculous report (which called these payoffs "winding up charges"). This was soon blown apart by sections of the media and by our own CAG (one institution which did not succumb) in 1989.
It was the Bofors scandal which led to Rajiv’s defeat in the 1989 elections. During V.P. Singh’s brief tenure, a serious CBI investigation was initiated and the Swiss accounts were frozen. The tenure of Rao’s government again saw foot dragging by the CBI, and the infamous Solanki affair, where the minister was caught telling the Swiss authorities not to proceed with the matter.
And then came the two infamous orders of the Delhi High Court quashing the CBI FIR- first by Justice M.K. Chawla on a petition by a set up lawyer named H.S. Chowdhary, and then by Justices G.C. Mittal and Satpal on Win Chaddha’s petition. Both times, however, the Supreme Court reversed the High Court orders with severe strictures.
Eventually, the Swiss bank documents came, showing that the accounts, in which the Bofors moneys were deposited, were owned by Quattrochi, the Hindujas and Win Chaddha. But the CBI chargesheet was again quashed by Justice R.S. Sodhi of the Delhi High Court, this time on the ground, that the CVC’s approval for the chargesheet had not been taken! Again, the Supreme Court reversed it.
But in Feb 2004, Justice J.D. Kapoor of the High Court quashed the charges related to corruption, and was soon rewarded by the new Congress-led UPA government (that assumed office in May 2004) by a plum post-retirement job. Though this judgement came towards the end of the NDA government’s tenure, the CBI did not appeal this judgement in the Supreme Court (perhaps because of Vajpayee’s closeness to the Hindujas).
And then in May 2005, Justice Sodhi once more quashed the entire charge sheet against the Hindujas, this time on the ground that the Swiss bank documents were not originals, but only certified photocopies! Again, the CBI (this time the Congress-led UPA government) did not appeal this absurd judgement, despite the fact that the Swiss bank documents showing the Bofors accounts being owned by Quattrochi and Hinduja had come after the Hindujas had lost appeals upto the Swiss Supreme Court, and the courts there were convinced that this was a case of corruption.
It was on the basis of these last two High Court judgements that B. Datta on behalf of the Government of India, told the U.K. Crown Prosecution Service that Quattrochi’s accounts be defrozen, since "there was no longer any reasonable prospect of the case against Mr. Quattrochi proceeding to trial". It is now clear from the documents filed by the government in the Supreme Court, that contrary to the government’s claim, there was no query from the Crown Prosecution Service and there was no issue of the linkage between Quattrochi’s UK accounts and the Bofors money.
Many now feel that the ghost of Bofors must be allowed to rest here -- some for the reason that it has gone on long enough; others, because they feel that there is no chance of the perpetrators of the crime being punished. But it we adopt this attitude, we might as well repeal all our anti corruption laws, or at least forget about prosecuting powerful people.
As things stand, there is hardly any chance of powerful people being convicted by the criminal justice system in this country. But that is reason enough to drastically reform the system, rather than accept corruption as inevitable. If we do that, we sign the death warrant of integrity. Moreover, even in this corrupt system, it is these Bofors-like exposures, and the sporadic pursuit by some public spirited citizens, that have ensured that the corrupt have to spend sleepless nights in trying to get away. And they do pay politically. The public interest in Bofors which has survived 19 years is proof enough of that. These, in my view are adequate reasons for not burying Bofors.