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Crores go down the gun drain
- Bofors case collapses after running up big bill

New Delhi, May 31: After 18 years of legal tussle and a probe that cost Rs 250 crore to prove a Rs 64-crore scandal, the case which unseated Rajiv Gandhi has virtually collapsed.

Delhi High Court today acquitted the three Hinduja brothers in the Bofors payoff case and slammed the prosecution for wasting public money.

Justice R.S. Sodhi said the prosecution failed to substantiate charges that the Europe-based Srichand, Gopichand and Prakashchand Hinduja were part of the kickbacks scandal in the 1986 sale of 155-mm Howitzers to the Indian Army by Sweden’s now defunct A.B. Bofors.

“If the Central Bureau of Investigation is incapable of producing relevant material, the case can’t stand on its own legs. No case can proceed against the Hinduja brothers and Bofors,” the judge said.

“Based on this dubious material, to allow prosecution for going on for many more years, in respect of a transaction of more than 20 years vintage, is sheer persecution, waste of public time and money.”

Expressing his disapproval at the investigation, the judge said he was given to understand that it cost the exchequer nearly Rs 250 crore.

In London, the billionaire brothers said they were “delighted” that the “truth” has prevailed. “The judgment vindicates us and provides the judicial endorsement of what we have been saying all along: that we were not involved in any wrongdoing and there was never any evidence that we were,” they said in a statement.

The three had been accused of taking Rs 16 crore to lobby for Bofors. A total of Rs 64 crore was allegedly paid as kickbacks in the Rs 1,437.72-crore gun deal.

After today’s verdict, the lone remaining accused is Ottavio Quattrocchi. The CBI’s efforts to get the Italian businessman extradited from Malaysia have not yet succeeded.

Rajiv Gandhi, who lost the 1989 polls after the scandal erupted, died in 1991. He was later given a clean chit by the high court. Three other accused ' former defence secretary S.K. Bhatnagar, arms agent Win Chaddha and former Bofors chief Martin Ardbo ' are also dead.

Justice Sodhi said the CBI’s “inability” to produce original documents on which it had based the case was evident when it produced only the “uncertified photocopies”. “No case can be proceeded against the Hindujas or the Bofors company in the absence of original documents.”

The judge also observed that the case was a media created “huge bubble”, which, when tested by court, “burst, leaving behind a disastrous trail of suffering”. “The accused suffered emotionally. Careers ' both political and professional ' were ruined.”

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