In the year 1986, the Bofors deal was signed between the Rajiv Gandhi government and Sweden. In the same year in March, the deal for 410 Howitzer field guns was completed. While the deal was reported, the scandal had not broken yet. Around the same time in 1986, the then Finance Minister, V. P. Singh — who had a reputation of being a no-nonsense minister — deployed an investigation. To do so, he got in touch with a private investigation group, Fairfax — one of the most reputed private security firms worldwide.
In this Global Exclusive, Michael Hershman, the man who first found Bofors papers reveals the truth for the first time in a TV interview with Prema Sridevi. Michael Hershman of the Fairfax Group is the secret investigator the Indian government had deployed. He is a trained U.S. Military Intelligence Officer, who was also a part of the Senate Watergate Committee and co-founded Transparency International.
While Hershman was never meant to look into Bofors, he stumbled upon it while working for VP Singh. During the course of the interview, he exposes Rajiv Gandhi, the then Congress government, and Congress politicians. He states that Rajiv Gandhi was furious when Hershman found the Swiss Bank secret account called “Mont Blanc” where bribe money went.
This is the first time that Michael Hershman, who first tracked the Bofors kickbacks, has spoken out in a TV interview. When asked if former Finance Minister VP Singh asked him to investigate the Bofors scam, Hershman said, “it had nothing to do with Bofors and I had not even heard of Bofors at that time. In fact, I think very few people have heard of Bofors. No, he was conducting with the agreement of the President Rajiv Gandhi, an investigation into the violation of currency control laws.” He said that when the BCCI scandal broke out, they found an “unusual transactions into bank accounts in Switzerland, large transactions that it looked us to be not currency control law violations but bribes for arms deals. I knew that wasn't our mandate but I felt it our responsibility to at least report it to V.P Singh and when we did, he said that he would want us to continue to look at this.”
During the interview, Hershman exposed Rajiv Gandhi and said that Gandhi was furious when he found the Swiss Bank secret account. Hershman stated that Gandhi and associates were most likely scared of the truth, they had some "personal concerns".
He said, “but unfortunately when our work was uncovered, Rajiv Gandhi got very upset and he established a Supreme Court commission to look into the circumstances surrounding V. P Singh's hiring of us. And at the same time, he transferred V. P Singh out of the Finance Ministry to the Ministry of Defence to essentially get him out of the way and impede the investigation.”
On being questioned about, what could be the reason behind Rajiv Gandhi being upset, Hershman said, “well, this was clearly a sensitive issue for him and that's a very good question. If he or his close associates were not involved then what were they afraid of? They made spurious allegations about me and the Fairfax Group being a front for the CIA and trying to destabilize his government. Frankly, he didn't need our help to destabilize his government. He was doing a good job of it himself."
During the course of the interview, it takes a sensation turn when Michael Hershman states that he was told to take a $ 1 million bribe or get ready to be killed. He said that a person named Latif Khan tried to offer him a bribe. Hershman said, “well, it was the first of several offers and he came to me and offered me money to essentially stop the investigation. I refused and then he got some sort of spurious litigation which was dismissed. There were two other attempts after that to get me to stop the investigation.” It was at this point when Hershman exposes the Congress government by saying that it offered arms trader Adnan Khashoggi defense deals if he fixed VP Singh.
Hershman was invited by Adnan Khashoggi, a high flying arms dealer who was connected to every head of state and operated with ease and lured powerbrokers with luxury. His good friend was Chandraswami, a close aide of the Gandhi. Now the questions which arise are- what was Chandraswami doing in Spain with an arms dealer and what did they want from Michael Hershman?
In a stunning allegation, Hershman also claims that Pakistani head of shadowy international bank met Rajiv Gandhi "with a large briefcase". He said that senior Congress leaders would have been hurt by the Bofors scandal.
Lastly, on being questioned why the Bofors case has taken so long, Hershman said, “because I think there are still very powerful politicians in this country that are at risk of being identified as having taken Bofors money. Hershman added that even today powerful politicians exist in India who risk being identified in the Bofors scandal.
After the explosive interview, Hershman stated that he is ready to testify and help Indian agencies on the Bofors scandal. Furthermore, when questioned if ever asked by an Indian government now or in the future to testify before an agency, a commission or a court of law regarding the findings of the Bofors deal, Hershman responded by saying, “if it's a credible request, if I really believe there is really a will to get to the bottom of it. And it's not just some public relations stunt I will certainly be willing to do it.”