New Delhi, Nov. 14: After 16 years of hurdles, the Bofors kickbacks case took a fresh turn today after the special court ordered framing of charges against the accused Hinduja brothers.
Special judge Prem Kumar also ordered for framing of charges against M/s AB Bofors, the Swedish weapon manufacturing company involved in the case.
Framing of charges is a procedural requirement in a criminal trial. The judge will read out the various sections of the law under which charges have been made out for trial by the prosecution and if the accused plead “not guilty”, the trial would commence.
After the Supreme Court had ordered that the trial should — as far as possible — be conducted on a day-to-day basis, there was no option left for the trial court but to frame the charges and commence the trial.
The trial judge had earlier rejected a plea by Amit Desai and Ashok Arora — counsel for the brothers Srichand, Prakashchand and Gopichand — that the framing of charges should be deferred till November 20.
“There is a Supreme Court order for a day-to-day trial of the case,” the judge had pointed out. Neither a high court nor a trial, district or other court can go beyond the order of the apex court, he said.
But the Hindujas could challenge the very order of framing of charges in the high court and then, depending on the outcome, in the Supreme Court. Desai made it clear that the Hindujas would challenge the order of framing of charges in the high court.
“We will certainly challenge this very order (of framing charges) in the superior court (Delhi High Court). We will convince the superior judiciary that there is no material for framing the charges. The chargesheet has been wrongly filed,” Desai said.
“We will challenge it in the high court and take all possible legal remedies,” Arora echoed.
The trial judge pointed out that as per the order of the Supreme Court, the trial could proceed even in the absence of the accused with the recording of the statements of their respective counsel.
The Central Bureau of Investigation, the prosecuting agency in the case, said there was sufficient evidence to frame charges against all the accused and proceed with the trial, despite the death of several key accused, like former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and the then defence secretary.
Kumar said common charges would be framed wherein the same provisions of law are used to charge the Hinduja brothers and Bofors.
Charges would be framed on select provisions separately where different sections of law are used against the accused. The Hinduja brothers and the Bofors company face charges commonly under Sections 120-B (for criminal conspiracy) and 420 (for cheating) of the Indian Penal Code and Sections 5(1)(d) and 5(2) of the Prevention of Corruption Act.
The trial court will also frame separate charges against the Hinduja brothers under Sections 161 and 165a (abetting a public servant to take bribe) and Section 34 (common intention to commit a crime) of the IPC. Additional charges would also be separately framed against Bofors under Sections 161, 165-a, 464 (making a false document) and 465 (for forgery) of the IPC.
The court has fixed tomorrow for formally framing the charges against the accused when it would ask whether they would like to plead guilty to the charges or prefer trial.
The Hinduja brothers have been charged with receiving about Rs 16 crore as kickbacks to lobby for the Bofors company to enter into a contract with the Indian government in March 1986 for the supply of 400 155 MM Howitzer guns worth Rs 1,437.72 crore.