In 1986, India and Sweden entered a $1.4 billion arms deal wherein a Swedish arms manufacturing firm AB Bofors sold 400 field howitzers to India, and got a supply contract almost twice that amount. It was the biggest arms deal ever in Sweden. But a Swedish Radio report in 1987 claimed that Bofors paid kickbacks, amounting to Rs 640 million, to top Indian politicians and key defence officials to secure the deal.
An Italian businessman, Ottavio Quattrocchi, acted as a middleman in the scandal. Quattrocchi was alleged to be close to the family of then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. While denying any such corruption behind the deal, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi assured the Lok Sabha that no middleman was involved and no kickbacks were paid. However, that didn’t save him from losing power in 1989 general elections.
In an unparalleled display of investigative journalism in Indian history, Chitra Subramaniam, a stringer working with the The Hindu, who was based in Geneva, secured over 350 documents detailing the payoffs. The man who revealed the documents to Chitra was Sten Lindstrom, head of Swedish police who led the investigations into the Bofors-India arms deal.
Here’s a timeline of events of the Bofors scandal:
March 24, 1986: A $1.4 billion contract between the Indian government and Swedish arms company AB Bofors is signed for supply of over 400 155mm Howitzer field guns.
April 16, 1987: Swedish Radio claims Bofors paid kickbacks to top Indian politicians and key defence officials to secure the deal.
April 20, 1987: Then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi assures the Lok Sabha that no middleman was involved and no kickbacks were paid.
Aug 6, 1987: Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) set up under B Shankaranand to probe allegations of kickbacks.
July 18, 1989: JPC report presented to Parliament.
November 1989: Congress defeated in Lok Sabha election.
Dec 26, 1989: Prime Minister VP Singh’s government bars Bofors from entering into any defence contract with India.
Jan 22, 1990: Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) registers complaint in the case.
Jan 26, 1990: Swiss authorities freeze bank accounts of Svenska and AE Services, which allegedly received unauthorised commissions for the deal.
Feb 17, 1992: Journalist Bo Anderson’s sensational report on the Bofors payoffs case published.
December 1992: Supreme Court reverses a Delhi High Court decision quashing the complaint in the case.
Feb 9, 1993: Supreme Court rejects former Bofors agent Win Chadha’s plea for quashing the letters rogatory sent by the trial court to its counterpart in Sweden seeking assistance in the case.
July 12, 1993: Swiss federal court rules that India was entitled to Swiss bank documents pertaining to kickbacks.
July 29/30, 1993: Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi, who represented Italian fertiliser firm Snam Progetti for years, leaves India to avoid arrest.
Jan 21, 1997: After four years of legal wrangles, secret documents running into over 500 pages given to Indian authorities in Berne.
Jan 30, 1997: CBI sets up special investigation team for the case.
Feb 10, 1997: CBI questions ex-army chief Gen Krishnaswamy Sundarji.
Feb 12, 1997: Letters rogatory issued to Malaysia and United Arab Emirates (UAE) seeking arrest of Quattrocchi and Win Chadha.
May 1998: Delhi High Court rejects Quattrocchi’s plea for quashing of ‘red corner’ notice issued by Interpol at CBI request.
Oct 22, 1999: CBI files first chargesheet naming Win Chadha, Quattrocchi, former Indian defence secretary S K Bhatnagar, former Bofors chief Martin Ardbo and Bofors company. Rajiv Gandhi’s name figures as “an accused not sent for trial” — as he was assassinated in 1991.
Nov 7, 1999: Trial court issues arrest warrants against Quattrocchi, while summoning other four accused.
Dec 13, 1999: CBI team goes to Malaysia to seek extradition of Quattrocchi; fails.
Early 2000: Quattrocchi approaches Supreme Court to quash arrest warrant against him. The court asks him to appear before the CBI for interrogation while protecting him from being arrested. Quattrocchi refuses to accept the order.
March 18, 2000: Chadha comes to India to face trial.
July 29, 2000: Trial court issues “open non-bailable arrest warrants” against Ardbo.
Sep 4, 2000: Chadha moves Supreme Court for permission to go to Dubai for treatment. Supreme Court rejects plea.
Sep 29, 2000: Hindujas issue statement saying funds received by them from Bofors had no connection with the gun deal.
Oct 9, 2000: CBI files supplementary chargesheet naming Hinduja brothers as accused.
Dec 20, 2000: Quattrocchi arrested in Malaysia, gets bail but is asked to stay in the country.
Aug 6, 2001: Former defence secretary Bhatnagar dies of cancer.
Oct 24, 2001: Win Chadha dies of heart attack.
Nov 15, 2002: Hinduja brothers formally charged with cheating, criminal conspiracy and corruption.
Dec 2, 2002: Malaysian court denies India’s request for Quattrocchi’s extradition.
July 28, 2003: Britain freezes Quattrocchi’s bank accounts.
Jan 4, 2004: Swiss authorities agree to consider CBI request to provide Quattrocchi’s bank details.
Feb 4, 2004: Delhi High Court clears Rajiv Gandhi of involvement in scandal.
May 31, 2005: Delhi High Court clears Hindujas of involvement.
Dec 31, 2005: CBI tells Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), London, that it has not been able to link the money in two accounts of Quattrocchi with Bofors kickbacks.
Jan 7, 2006: Two accounts of Quattrocchi in London banks containing 3 million euros and $1 million are defreezed after then additional solicitor general B. Dutta met CPS lawyers.
Feb 6, 2007: Quattrocchi detained in Argentina on Interpol lookout notice.
Feb 13, 2007: CBI writes to ministry of external affairs for Argentinean Extradition Act and tells Interpol that documentation are being prepared for extradition proceedings.
Feb 24, 2007: Fresh arrest warrant against Quattrocchi obtained from Delhi court.
Feb 26, 2007: Quattrochhi released on bail with condition that he does not leave Argentina.
Feb 28, 2007: Two-member CBI team leaves for Argentina.
March 1, 2007: Argentinean judge examines CBI application seeking Quattrocchi’s extradition.
March 23, 2007: Hearing of extradition plea begins in Argentine court.
June 8, 2007: Court in El Dorado rejects extradition request.
October 2008: Attorney General Milon Banerjee opines that CBI can withdraw Red Corner Notice against Quattrocchi.
Nov 25, 2008: Red Corner Notice withdrawn.
April 30, 2009: CBI seeks time from trial court to decide future course of action against Quattrocchi.
Sep 8, 2009: CBI seeks two weeks’ time from trial court to explore options against Quattrocchi.
Sep 29, 2009: Government tells Supreme Court about decision to withdraw case against Quattrocchi.
Dec 14, 2010: A Delhi court reserves order till January 4, 2011 on a plea of CBI seeking to drop criminal proceedings against Quattrocchi.
Jan 3, 2011: An Income Tax tribunal rules that commission in violation of Indian laws was indeed paid to Quattrochi and Chadha in the gun deal that cost the national exchequer Rs. 412.4 million some 23 years ago.
Feb 21, 2011: CBI says no change in its stand in the wake of Income tax tribunal order. Court defers order for March 4.
March 4, 2011: Court allows CBI’s plea to withdraw case against Quattrochhi.
In May 2015, days after President Pranab Mukherjee gave an interview to Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter , the paper received a letter from Indian authorities wanting sections of the president’s interview, mainly when he mentions about Bofors scam, to be retracted.
Peter Wolodarski, Editor-in-chief of the newspaper said he received an official letter from the Indian ambassador in Stockholm expressing disappointment in the interview and charged the newspaper of not showing “the courtesy and respect” that the President deserves as the head of state.