Nearly 30 years ago, India witnessed one of its biggest arms deal. But it soon came back to haunt the country, particularly, the then ruling Indian National Congress.
On 24 March 1986, a multi-million dollar contract between the Government of India and Swedish arms company Bofors was signed for supply of 410 155mm Howitzer field guns. It was then the biggest arms deal ever in Sweden.
In the following year, on 16 April 1987, the first news of a possible scam involved in the deal surfaced. Swedish Radio had alleged that kickbacks were paid to people, including top politicians in India to finalise and formalise the deal.
It was alleged that the Swedish company paid ₹640 million in kickbacks to top Indian politicians and key defence officials. Meanwhile, journalist Chitra Subramaniam (now, the editorial advisor of Republic TV) secured over 350 documents that detailed the payoffs. Her investigation into the deal is widely believed to have contributed to the electoral defeat of Rajiv Gandhi in 1989.
As new details about the deal emerged, one name, that of Ottavio Quattrocchi, surfaced. The Italian businessman, Quattrocchi, is believed to have had close ties with the family of the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and been the middleman in the deal between the Indian government and the Swedish company, Bofors AB.
A Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) was set up in 1987 to probe into the sensational allegations. The panel submitted was to submit its report in the next two years, coinciding with the parliamentary polls.
Following the poll outcome, the then Prime Minister VP Singh's government barred Bofors AB from entering into any defence contract with the government.
In January, 1990, the CBI registered a case. And, three months later, Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated by the LTTE in Sriperumbudur in Chennai. Following, the former Prime Minister’s assassination, the the probe into the case slowed down.
Six years later, in 1997, the Swiss Bank released some 500 documents after years of legal battle. In 1999, the ban on Bofors Ab was lifted, a development that came at a time when the Kargil war was underway.
The CBI filed a chargesheet against Quattrocchi, Win Chadha who was an agent of the Swedish arms manufacturer Bofors AB, Defence Secretary S.K. Bhatnagar in October, 1999.
Two years later, Win Chadha and S.K. Bhatnagar died.
Chadha died of a cardiac arrest on 24 October, 2001 was believed to be suffering from diabetes, blood pressure and heart disease.
On 10 June 2002, the Delhi High Court quashed all proceedings in the case but it was reversed by the Supreme Court of India on 7 July 2003.
On January 16, 2006, the CBI, in an affidavit filed before the Supreme Court, said it wanted to extradite middleman Quattrocchi from Argentina, where he had been detained. Subsequently, the Indian government lost the extradition case in the Argentine Supreme Court.
On 12 July 2013, Quattrochi died of a heart attack in Milan.
Over three decades after the news of the scam broke out, Republic TV's editorial advisor Chitra Subramaniam, who first brought out the Bofors documents in public view, spoke to the person who was heading the National Investigation Department of Sweden. Sten Lindstrom, now 71, the chief investigator of the case, revealed the role played by then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.