25 years of India’s ‘Watergate’: The Bofors scandal (Second Lead, superseding previous story)

Chronology of events since the 1986 Bofors howitzer payoff scandal – one of the biggest corruption scandals in India in which then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi and many others were accused of receiving kickbacks from the Swedish gun manufacturer and which was called India’s ‘Watergate’ by a New York court after it led to the fall of the Rajiv Gandhi government.

March 24, 1986: A Rs.1,500 crore ($285 million) contract between the Indian government and Swedish arms company AB Bofors is signed for the supply of over 400 155 mm Howitzer field guns.

April 16, 1987: Swedish Radio claims Bofors paid kickbacks to top Indian politicians and key defence officials to secure the deal, which was denied by then prime Rajiv Gandhi.

Aug 6, 1987: A Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) is set up to probe the allegations. It submitted its report two years later.

Nov 1989: With the opposition making the Bofors kickbacks a poll issue, Rajiv Gandhi’s Congress party is voted out of power in the general elections.

Dec 26, 1989: Prime Minister V.P. Singh’s government bars Bofors from entering into any defence contract with India.

Jan 22, 1990: The CBI registers a complaint, following which Swiss authorities freeze accounts of Svenska and AE Services, which allegedly received unauthorised commissions for the deal.

May 21, 1991: While the case was being investigated, Rajiv Gandhi assassinated.

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.

1997: Letters issued to Malaysia and UAE seeking arrest of Quattrocchi and former Bofors agent Win Chadha. CBI files a case against Quattrocchi, Chadha, defence secretary S.K. Bhatnagar, former Bofors chief Martin Ardbo and the Bofors company. Rajiv Gandhi’s name figures as ‘an accused not sent for trial’ as he was assassinated in 1991.

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 the Hinduja brothers as accused.

Dec 20, 2000: Quattrocchi arrested in Malaysia, gets bail but is asked to stay in the country.

August/October, 2001: Former defence secretary Bhatnagar dies of cancer. Win Chadha dies of a heart attack.

Feb 4, 2004: Delhi High Court clears Rajiv Gandhi of involvement in the scandal.

May 31, 2005: Delhi High Court clears the Hindujas of involvement.

Feb 6, 2007: Quattrocchi detained in Argentina on Interpol lookout notice but later released.

Sep 29, 2009: Government tells Supreme Court about its decision to withdraw the case against Quattrocchi.

Dec 14, 2010: A Delhi court reserves its order on a CBI plea 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.

March 4, 2011: A Delhi court allows the CBI to drop all charges against Quattrochhi and to close the case.

April 24, 2012: Swedish police chief Sten Lindstrom reveals he was the Swedish Deep Throat, the key source of journalist Chitra Subramaniam-Duella’s source. He says no evidence of former Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi or Amitabh Bachchan in the Bofors pay-off scandal.

IANS