The Brothers Hinduja and the Bofors scandal

Published : Oct 28, 2000 00:00 IST

THE charge-sheet filed on October 9, 2000 by the Central Bureau of Investigation in the Delhi court of Special Judge Ajit Bharihoke, read along with the detailed post-April 1987 record of the media investigation and other documents and reports, makes two things clear. While there is nothing new in the claim made by the Brothers Hinduja of their "non-involvement in the Bofors case," a mass of multi-faceted documented evidence and information gives the lie to this claim.

On April 22, 1987, the respected Swedish daily newspaper Dagens Nyheter, quoting highly placed company sources in an original report, identified the Hindujas as recipients of the "commission" paid by Bofors in connection with winning the Bofors-In dia howitzer contract of March 24, 1986. Through 1987, the Hindujas persistently denied their involvement in the Bofors scandal, with one of the brothers claiming in an interview that "there is a clear-cut conspiracy to malign the name of the family." Th e first irrefutable documentary basis of the Hinduja involvement in the Bofors-India payoff scandal came in the form of six documents relating to the Pitco-Moresco-'Lotus'-'Mont Blanc'-'Tulip' track of 'commission' payments, amounting to nearly SEK 81 mi llion, published and analysed in The Hindu of April 22, 1988 and June 25, 1988. Especially important were three transaction documents which made the link, "Pitco, c/o Sangam Ltd" and "Pitco, c/o Mr G.P. Hinduja, Sangam Ltd.," for 1982 and 1984. In a statement issued from London, G.P. Hinduja alleged that these documents had been planted by enemies of the family and were "false" or "fabricated."

By June 1988, the independent media investigation had gained and published a large number of authoritative Bofors documents that gave the lie to the 'winding up', 'no middlemen', 'no commission', 'no Indian recipient' story. By late-1989, a great deal of further evidence and information, notably from the Martin Ardbo diary entries and notes for 1987 seized by the Swedish police and from The Hindu investigation's interaction with the Hindujas, had revealed the involvement of the Brothers Hinduja a s lead actors in the crisis-management and cover-up - in fact, had established that the Hinduja role in the Bofors howitzer scandal went deeper than the role of anyone except Rajiv Gandhi, who eventually became the first accused in the corruption case, a nd Bofors, the briber. Yet, in late-1989, G.P. Hinduja was claiming in a magazine interview that "we have had nothing to do with Moresco, Pitco, Moineao or any other company by any other name or in any way connected with the Bofors howitzer contract."

After a regular criminal case was registered by the CBI in 1990, this strategy of blanket denial continued, with S.P. Hinduja and G.P. Hinduja reportedly claiming to the CBI investigators, as late as 1991, that "our family has never dealt with Bofors" an d S.P. Hinduja going so far as to assert, in a newspaper interview published on April 14, 1991, that "we are not an appellant before Swiss courts on the Bofors matter." This unsavoury chapter should have come to an end with the incriminating documents re ceived in December 1999 by India's premier criminal investigation agency from the Swiss authorities in execution of the letters rogatory of February 7, 1990. But during a phase of pre-charge-sheet jitters, the denial continued with new variants of the fa lsehood in a desperate attempt to block and even derail the lawful investigation. No longer was it possible to deny the fact of Bofors payments into the coded accounts opened by a Panama-based front spelt, variously, as M/s Mc Intyre Corporation and M/s Mac Intire Corporation, or ownership of this 'M...' corporation (by whatever name spelt) by the three Hinduja brothers, Srichand, Gopichand and Prakash. However, a never-say-die media disinformation campaign spearheaded by S.P. Hinduja maintained, at thi s crucial stage, that a 'clarification' was on its way from the Swiss investigating judge that the funds received into the coded accounts "had no relation to the gun contract as suitably evidenced." The reference, it quickly turned out, was to a 'clarifi cation' by the accused party - not from any Swiss investigating judge or official! The "clarification' failed to arrive in the early time frame suggested by the Hinduja statement, nor did its threatened arrival succeed in stopping the CBI from filing its supplementary charge-sheet against the three Hinduja brothers.

THE Bofors case, as investigated by the CBI, is about criminal conspiracy, bribery, criminal misconduct by public servants, cheating, criminal breach of trust, forgery for the purpose of cheating and using as genuine a forged document in respect of the B ofors-India howitzer contract of March 24, 1986. The first charge-sheet, filed in October 1999, was against the former Defence Secretary, S.K. Bhatnagar, Ottavio Quattrocchi, W.N. Chadha, Martin Ardbo, M/s A.B. Bofors for various offences under the India n Penal Code. The charge-sheet against G.P., S.P. and P.P. Hinduja alleges that they were "party to the criminal conspiracy with Martin Ardbo and others during the period 1985-1987 and thereafter and in pursuance thereof, they also received commissions f rom M/s AB Bofors"; that the Swedish arms manufacturer paid the three brothers, through the 'M...' corporation, SEK 80.80 million; that although the Government of India had laid down a requirement of no middlemen and no commissions in the howitzer deal a nd Bofors had agreed, "in pursuance of the criminal conspiracy, the accused persons dishonestly led the government to believe that there were no agents and induced the government to part with" an amount that included "commissions," thus cheating the gove rnment and putting it to "a wrongful loss."

It must be remembered that even after the evidence surfaced in The Hindu's 1988-89 investigation which blew the lid on the corrupt transaction and payoffs, neither Bofors nor the Government of India under Rajiv Gandhi, not to mention the other acc used, admitted that these were payoffs or "commissions" for Bofors winning the 1986 howitzer contract with the Government of India. Thus the 'winding up costs' story took shape and became the fulcrum of the crisis management and cover-up strategy. But th is was given short shrift by the aggressive media investigation and was rejected, decisively, by the CBI in its investigation. Otherwise, there would have been no question of filing a charge-sheet.

A battle in courts lies ahead. The supplementary charge-sheet makes clear that in the CBI's professional judgment, there is abundant evidence linking the 'Arab-Tulip," "Lotus," and "Mont Blanc" coded payments (SEK 37.03 million, SEK 31.99 million and SEK 11.77 million) into three Hinduja Swiss bank accounts with the 1986 Bofors-India howitzer contract and the consequent payoffs. The evidence includes the following:

1. The explosive secret part of the Swedish National Audit Bureau (SNAB) report published in facsimile form by The Hindu of October 9, 1989. This secret evidence, which had been suppressed for more than two years by the Swedish government in collu sion with the Rajiv Gandhi government, included the revelation that in SNAB's judgment the Bofors payments were "entirely proven commission payments to companies/ accounts in Switzerland in relation to the Bofors FH-77 deal." The report added: "that thes e payments unquestionably relate to this business is based on the fact that this has been communicated in writing by AB Bofors to the Bank of Sweden." And what were these payments? They included, as sub-para 1b., "a payment of SEK 11,774,925... made on 1 986-05-22 to Credit Suisse, att. Mr Bernard Meier... Ref: Mont Blanc"; as sub-para 2a., "three payments made to Swiss Bank Corporation, attn. Mr Lafond... Ref: Lotus," the first of SEK 8,410,661 dated 1986-05-22, the second of SEK 8,410,661 dated 1986-07 -02, and the third of SEK 12, 615,992 dated 1986-07-08; and a payment of SEK 12,615,992 made on 1986-07-08 to "Manufacturers Hanover Trust Company, New York, attn Mr Emil G. Marshi, Geneve branch... Ref: Tulip."

2. A whole set of documents published by The Hindu on June 23, 1988 across three pages linking the 1986 Bofors payments to "Tulip," "Mont Blanc," and "Lotus" and evidencing a percentage-based calculation for the secret payments. These documents, w hich now form part of the evidence with the CBI, include Bofors' remittance documents giving the incriminating dates and code-numbers; one such document relating to Tulip instructs: "Attention: the sender should not be mentioned on the payment as per ins tructions given on telephone."

3. The authoritative disclosure made in September 1987 to the Government of India by a Bofors official team consisting of Per Ove Morberg, the Swedish arms manufacturing company's new Managing Director, and Lars Gothlin, the Chief Legal Adviser of Nobel Industries. The CBI's charge-sheet reveals that according to the Agreed Summary, the Bofors officials "disclosed that they had also engaged Svenska Inc, Moresco, and A.E. Services Ltd., for consultancy services in connection with the Indian contract. Acc ording to Bofors, initially the name of Moresco was Pitco in 1979, when the consultancy agreement for payment of 3% commission was entered into. Later, it had undergone a change of name. They stated that this agreement was terminated by January 1986. Acc ording to them, three payments in instalments of SEK 37 million, SEK 12 million and SEK 32 million (total SEK 81 million) were made to this company by credit to Swiss banks. At the request of the company... the last instalment of SEK 32 million was paid into a Swiss bank under a code name. It was further disclosed that this payment in favour of Moresco was made to Bank Suisse, Geneve, under code name Lotus." Subsequently, Bofors tried to change its story. In a letter dated October 6, 1987, it informed t he Government of India that Moresco was not a company but a reference to Moineao SA.

The bank documents the CBI received in December 1999 from the Swiss authorities revealed particulars relating to the banks and the codes that were the same as those recorded in the SNAB report. The aggregate payment of just under SEK 81 million into the 'Arab/Tulip', 'Lotus' and 'Mont Blanc' accounts was exactly the aggregate paid to 'M/s Moresco/Moineao SA', according to the disclosure made by the Bofors officials to the Government of India. However, the CBI found that Bofors had lied officially to the Government of India about the name of the company to which the SEK 81 million had been paid: it was M/s Mc Intyre/Mac Intire and not Moineao (although the Directors of these two front companies were the same).

A CBI analysis of the nine discrete payments made by Bofors into the three coded Hinduja accounts between May and December 1986 showed that the payments were contingent on, and linked precisely to, the advance paid to Bofors by the Government of India an d the payments made on account of the actual delivery of the gun systems, ammunition and so on. The evidence is absolutely clear that these were 'commissions' in accordance with the 3 per cent of the total contract value laid down in a Moresco-Bofors con tract, as revealed to the Government of India by the Bofors officials.

The CBI charge-sheet also documents blocking manoeuvres by the three Hinduja brothers in Switzerland, undertaken to prevent the Government of India receiving the legal assistance requested under the 'dual criminality' provision. It also calls attention t o the significance of the change of nationality by G.P. Hinduja in June 1998 and by S.P. Hinduja in April 1999; it found a direct link between these events and "the stages of execution of the Letters Rogatory in Switzerland. The charge-sheet asserts that such conduct by the three Hinduja brothers "shows that they are also conspirators along with M/s A.B. Bofors."

The three Hinduja brothers, two of whom have become U.K. nationals and the third has reportedly acquired Swiss nationality, have defied the CBI's summons and have, in effect, kept away from the law. They have been unable to come to India to attend their substantial business interests and other matters because the CBI would, without doubt, have knocked at their door and taken whatever action, under the law of the land, that it considered appropriate in the interests of its investigation. The CBI has also had a 'look-out' notice issued against the three Hinduja brothers., which meant that had they landed in India, immigration would have alerted the CBI about their arrival. Once the charges are framed by the Special Judge and the action moves decisively t o a trial, it could be a new and even more worrying ball-game for the brothers from the standpoint of both personal and business interests. After the charges are framed, the CBI's leverage in making intransigent accused submit themselves to the law of th e land will increase considerably - with summons, warrants, legal sanctions against properties and business assets, and extradition proceedings becoming theoretical possibilities - and there could be a high cost to staying away notwithstanding the influe nce in high political places the Brothers Hinduja are reputed to enjoy.

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