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Bofors set for final hearing

Bofors set for   final hearing

Since over a quarter of a century, Bofors, 20th century India's biggest political corruption scandal, has had its ups and downs, its tide and flow, in the public mind. It resurfaced on people's minds on Friday, when taking into cognizance the plea for an early hearing filed by BJP leader and advocate Ajay Kumar Agarwal, a Supreme Court Bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra said that the final hearing in the 64-crore Bofors payoff case would commence in the second week of October. Agarwal had challenged the Delhi High Court's judgment on May 31, 2005, in which all charges against the Europe-based Hinduja brothers had been quashed.

The Apex court had on October 18, 2005, admitted his petition, filed after the CBI failed to approach the top court with the appeal within the 90-day deadline following the High Court verdict. The hearing has hogged the headlines as the ruling BJP MPs had demanded in the Parliament for reopening of the probe into the Bofors payoff. The petitioner had also written a letter to the Enforcement Directorate seeking an investigation into the trail of the kickback money under the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA), 1999 and the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002. It was Justice (Retired) RS Sodhi of the Delhi High Court, who on May 31, 2005, had quashed all charges against the Hinduja brothers and the Bofors. Prior to it, Justice (retired) JD Kapoor of the Delhi High Court had freed late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in the case. It may be noted that the Rs 1,437-crore deal between India and the Swedish company AB Bofors for the supply of 400 155mm Howitzer guns for the Indian Army was struck on March 24, 1986. It was later claimed by the Swedish authorities that the company had paid bribes to top Indian politicians and defence personnel – for sealing the deal.

Later, the CBI had registered an FIR against Martin Ardbo, then President of AB Bofors; alleged middleman Win Chadda and Hinduja brothers for criminal conspiracy, cheating, forgery under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and other sections of the Prevention of Corruption Act. To stem the tidal a wave of protests against those close to the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi for allegedly receiving kickbacks in the Bofors deal for the purchase of guns, the then Congress government had blacklisted the Swedish firm in 1987. This ban was lifted only in June 1999, during the Kargil conflict when the Bofors guns proved their efficiency but were severely crippled by a shortage of spare-parts. Nonetheless, had proper action been taken in time, under the law of the land, against those who got the payoffs and the facilitators of this deal, India might have crushed the series of corruption scandals that still continue to annoy it a quarter century later. As unlike other corruption scandals, Bofors has not withered away from the national spotlight due to its deep-seated political, moral, and systemic issues. The Apex Court of India, in its final testament, is expected to give benchmark lessons to corrupt Netas and Babus of the system to tame the coming future.

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