The Supreme Court dismissed a CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) petition that had challenged a 2005 Delhi High Court verdict in the Bofors case. Since it was “time-barred”, the bench dismissed the appeal. The appeal was filed against the High Court’s judgement that had discharged all accused in the case including Hinduja brothers.
The bench was headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, who said that he remained unconvinced that CBI was unable to file the case within the required time. Being the prosecuting agency in the case, the CBI had failed to file an appeal before the apex court within the stipulated 90 days’ time period after the Delhi High Court’s judgement in 2005. The appeal was filed 13 years later, in February this year.
Attorney General K K Venugopal requested the top court to make it clear in its order, that dismissal of CBI appeal would not preclude the probe agency from carrying out the investigation in the case.
Although CBI’s appeal has been dismissed, it does not mean the case is over. After the High Court order in 2005, advocate-turned politician Ajay Agrawal had filed an appeal against the order within the 90 day time limit, after CBI had decided not to appeal the verdict. Now CBI can place its arguments against the order when Agarwal’s appeal comes up for hearing in the Supreme Court. In January this year, Attorney General K K Venugopal had said that instead of filing an appeal so late, CBI should place its arguments in the Agarwal’s petition which has been admitted by the top court. But CBI had decided to file a separate petition instead.
On March 24, 1986, Swedish arms manufacturer Bofors AB had signed a Rs 1,437-crore deal with the Indian Army, in order to supply 400 155mm Howitzer guns. Following this, Swedish Radio on April 16, 1987, claimed that the company had paid bribes to top Indian politicians and defence personnel to secure the deal, with allegations that that former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi received a payoff on the deal to purchase the Bofors guns.
An FIR was then registered by the CBI on January 22, 1990, for alleged offences of criminal conspiracy, cheating and forgery under the Indian Penal Code and other sections of the Prevention of Corruption Act against Martin Ardbo, the then president of AB Bofors, alleged middleman Win Chadda and the Hinduja brothers.
On October 22, 1999, the first charge sheet in the case was filed against Chadda, Ottavio Quattrocchi, the then defence secretary S K Bhatnagar, Ardbo and Bofors company. A supplementary charge sheet was also filed against the Hinduja brothers on October 9, 2000.
A special CBI court in Delhi on March 4, 2011, had then discharged Quattrocchi from the case, asserting that the country could not afford to spend hard-earned money on his extradition which had already cost Rs 250 crore. On 12 July 2013, Quattrocchi died of a heart attack in Milan.