The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Tried, hanged, found innocent
One day, my innocence will be proved — Rajiv Gandhi in 1988

New Delhi, Feb. 4: Declared innocent: 13 years after death.

Former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was today exonerated by Delhi High Court in the Rs 64-crore Bofors scam.

“Ultimately, the truth has prevailed,” Sonia Gandhi said.

Justice J.D. Kapoor said in his judgment: “So far as public servants, namely the late Rajiv Gandhi and the late (defence secretary) S.K. Bhatnagar are concerned, 16 long years of investigation by a premier agency of the country... could not unearth a scintilla of evidence against them for having accepted bribe/illegal gratification in awarding the contract in favour of Bofors.”

The judge castigated the CBI for failing to collect any “evidence to show that public servants had taken bribe in awarding the contract to AB Bofors”. Even the special judge who had framed the charges against the accused was not spared.

Kapoor, however, ordered that charges be framed against the three Hinduja brothers — Srichand, Gopichand and Prakashchand — for entering into a criminal conspiracy to cheat the government “by fraudulently and dishonestly representing that there were no agents involved in the negotiation for the contract and further that the price quoted was reduced proportionate to the amount of commission they would have otherwise paid to the agents”.

These would be under the Indian Penal Code, but the judge quashed the framing of charges against them under the Prevention of Corruption Act, an order the CBI is going to contest in the Supreme Court.

Bofors was let off on criminal conspiracy and cheating, but it would be charged with falsifying documents.

The CBI, though managing to track down the commission Bofors allegedly paid to the agents — Win Chadha, Ottavio Quattrocchi and the Hindujas — could not collect evidence to link public servants to any payoffs.

Three of the accused, Rajiv Gandhi, S.K. Bhatnagar and Win Chadha, are no more.

The Bofors payoff allegations gathered such strength during the latter years of Rajiv Gandhi’s rule that it resulted in the Congress losing the 1989 elections. Almost at every election time since, the scandal reared its head as parties opposed to the Congress dredged it up.

“(We have gone through) 17 years of abuse, 17 years of vilification and worst character assassination throughout these 17 years,” Sonia said, as another election approaches.

Justice Kapoor’s order said there was no evidence to suggest either Rajiv Gandhi or S.K. Bhatnagar “used direct or indirect influence on anybody... for the award of contract to Bofors or as to price”.

“The CBI is like a drowning person clutching a flimsy straw by introducing the doctrine of ‘misusing an official position’” since it failed to collect any evidence.

The court ruled that the trial of the Hindujas, Bofors, Ardbo and Quattrocchi would be conducted by a chief metropolitan magistrate instead of the special judge who was trying the case earlier.

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