Bofors chargesheet names Rajiv
Govt?s Pope photo-op in Sangh shadow
Mamata wrests occupied berth

 
 
BOFORS CHARGESHEET NAMES RAJIV 
 
 
FROM OUR LEGAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Oct. 22 
Thirteen years after the Bofors controversy broke, the CBI today filed chargesheet in the case, accusing former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi, former defence secretary S.K. Bhatnagar, NRI businessman Wisheshwar Nath Chaddha alias Win Chaddha, the gun-manufacturing company AB Bofors (now merged into Celsius Corporation) and its former boss Martin Ardbo.

Rajiv Gandhi, during whose tenure as Prime Minister the gun deal was entered into with the Swedish company AB Bofors on March 24, 1986, was named an accused in the 4,500-page chargesheet with annexures.

The prosecution placed Rajiv Gandhi among the persons listed in column 2 in the chargesheet. This implies that no criminal offence could be proceeded with against him because he is dead.

Rajiv Gandhi is one among the accused allegedly involved in the ?criminal conspiracy? (Section 120B of the IPC), cheating (Section 420) and corruption charges under the Prevention of Corruption Act. But the chargesheet does not mention whether he received kickbacks.

Though the chargesheet may not have the impact it might have had when the poll campaign was on, the BJP will try to cash in on the fact that Rajiv Gandhi is among the accused. The target will be Sonia Gandhi, who has become leader of the Opposition.

Sonia tonight described the chargesheet as ?politically motivated? and said her party would raise the issue in Parliament. Earlier, a Congress spokesman said ?the chargesheet is a 13-year-old legal, political joke and will continue to be so in the years to come?.

The BJP said it was happy the chargesheet had been filed. Spokesman M. Venkaiah Naidu said: ?We are happy that during our party?s rule, the case is being taken to its logical conclusion.?

Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee hinted this morning that the chargesheet will be filed in a day or two. CBI director R.K. Raghavan had met home minister L.K. Advani last night and briefed him on the chargesheet.

Additional sessions judge Ajit Bharihoke, before whom the chargesheet was filed, fixed November 3 for further proceedings. The chargesheet included 213 supporting annexures.

The CBI?s bottomline was that Rs 64 crore was paid as kickbacks in the deal even after the government had made it clear that there should be no middleman in the contract for supply of 155-mm howitzer field guns.

The prosecuting and investigating agency cited 83 witnesses to support its case. The CBI charged that Quattrocchi?s AE Services received US $ 7.3 million and Win Chaddha?s Svenska Inc. received US $ 27 million from AB Bofors for securing the contract from the Rajiv Gandhi-led government in 1986.

The CBI told the court that further investigations were on to ascertain the roles of Win Chaddha?s son Harsh, Quattrocchi?s wife Maria and the Hinduja brothers.

The court had issued non-bailable arrest warrants against Quattrocchi. He is now in Kuala Lumpur and a red-corner notice was issued against him on the basis of the warrant.

The agency said new evidence has been unearthed to prove that Quattrocchi had, ?in a clandestine manner,? deposited money in Swiss banks as ?illegal gratification? for the benefit of ?certain public servants of India and their nominees?.

The CBI said Quattrocchi was ?instrumental in execution of the contract with AB Bofors? and was paid US $ 7,343,941.98. This amount was deposited in the joint account of Mr and Mrs Quattrocchi in their ?US $ account opened ostensibly for this purpose?.

The CBI case appears to be strongest against Quattrocchi and Chaddha. The agency has been able to trace the bank accounts where the deposits were made.

The chargesheet elaborates on Quattrocchi?s proximity with the Gandhi family. It records how Quattrocchi, the holder of an Italian passport, was in India from 1967 and ?abruptly left India in July 1993 after revelation of his name as one of the appellants before the Swiss courts?.

The ?new? investigation evidence says the ?families of the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Quattrocchi were on very intimate terms. ?The Quattrocchis had access to the Prime Minister?s house and the closeness of the families is also revealed by some of the family photographs collected during investigation?.

It says ?the petitioner was able to project himself as a person of great influence and evidence collected indicates that he frequently used to contact a number of senior politicians and bureaucrats?.

?There was undue haste shown in awarding the contract to Bofors,? the investigation says. The CBI holds that ?mini signatures (which could be initials) of 11 officials and ministers were obtained on the file in less than 48 hours?.    


 
 
GOVT?S POPE PHOTO-OP IN SANGH SHADOW 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, Oct. 22 
The diplomatic establishment, keen to use the Pope?s visit to swivel global limelight towards India?s secular face, has turned uneasy following the methodical build-up in the Sangh parivar?s anti-church propaganda.

The Indian foreign ministry has been pinning hopes on the papal tour, scheduled from November 5, to make the international community snip the ?Hindu fundamentalist? tag it has attached to the BJP-led government.

However, the ministry is now keeping its fingers crossed, realising that the global media event could turn into a public relations nightmare if the anti-Pope propaganda spins out of control.

Besides, the diplomats feel that if the Centre maintains its studious silence, it would send an embarrassing message that even a moderate leader like A.B. Vajpayee is wary of reining in the Sangh hardliners,

Some groups linked to the Sangh parivar, which have been demanding an apology from the Pope for the atrocities carried out against Hindus by Christian rulers in Goa a few centuries ago, have announced an agitation programme in the run-up to the visit.

Amid the foreign ministry?s apprehensions, a curious twist has been added by the Vice-President?s office.

Vice-President Krishan Kant has been invited by Christian organisers to attend a meeting the Pope wants to hold with the heads of different religions in the country at Vigyan Bhavan on November 7.

Fearing that his presence at the meeting may prove delicate for the government, Kant?s office has sought political clearance from the Prime Minister?s Office.The endorsement has not yet been given.

The Pope, touring India as a head of state, is expected to reach here on November 5. He will call on President K. R. Narayanan at the Rashtrapati Bhavan the next day. Later, he will receive Vajpayee and Kant at Hyderabad House.

On November 7, he is scheduled to hold a Mass at the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium. Foreign ministry officials are eager to showcase the event to the world media as a ?sparkling symbol? of India?s secular credentials as Diwali also falls on the same day.

South Block is also keen to cash in on the goodwill the visit is expected to generate in the West, especially since India has agreed to host the Asian Synod, which China had refused.

?The Pope?s visit is good for any country?s image. The impact of such a visit in the Christian world is tremendous,? a senior official of the Indian foreign ministry pointed out.

Over 200 journalists, both from the print and electronic streams, are descending on Delhi in the first week of November.

That provides an opportunity as well as a threat. If the visit goes without a hitch, the public relations dividends for India will be considerable. On the flip side, the protest programmes being lined up, too, will be blown out of proportion.    


 
 
MAMATA WRESTS OCCUPIED BERTH 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Oct. 22 
Railway minister Mamata Banerjee today showed her department how to evict a stubborn occupant from a reserved berth.

After a two-day tussle with Nitish Kumar over Room No. 5 ? the chamber traditionally occupied by the railway minister ? Mamata finally extracted a written assurance from parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan that she was entitled to the room.

The tug-of-war began when Mamata found that Kumar, who now heads the surface transport ministry, had not vacated his old office. She made her displeasure known to the government, but after two days of waiting for her ?rightful place? her patience gave way.

Exploding in anger, she burst into Mahajan?s room today to complain against her colleague. Later in the day, the Trinamul leader was allotted room No. 36 and told that former ministers were going to retain their old offices. But Mamata refused to waver and insisted on her right to room No. 5. Till her demand was met, the railway minister decided to work out of the Central Hall of Parliament.

Mahajan attempted to mollify the fiery leader this evening with the promise that she would be given the room. But Mamata wanted the pledge in black-and-white, and got it, too.

The government?s argument that all ministers were retaining their old offices was countered by Trinamul spokesperson Sudip Bandopadhyay, who underscored that Jaswant Singh, M.M. Joshi and Ananth Kumar had been allotted new rooms.

This is not the first time that the tracks of Mamata and Kumar have crossed. During the 13-month tenure of the Vajpayee government, Trinamul had tried to take the railway portfolio from Kumar. But he dug in his heels and the Trinamul bid was put on hold. But this time, Mamata had her way with Vajpayee and got the portfolio without any fuss.

However, the stand-off did not prevent Mamata from going full steam ahead with her work. She announced today that she has invited Bengal transport minister Subhas Chakraborty to Delhi on November 2 to discuss land acquisition for railway projects in the state.

She will also flag off the Shalimar-Haldia train in Bengal to commemorate the birth anniversary of Abul Kalam Azad. The railway is also chalking out plans to involve the private sector.    

 

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