Home Editor's picks Papers long buried, questions that were never asked: Was Sonia Gandhi's Italian family involved in the Bofors scam?

Papers long buried, questions that were never asked: Was Sonia Gandhi’s Italian family involved in the Bofors scam?

The multi-dimensional Bofors scam is 3 decades old and mostly, the wheels of justice have breathed their last. But even after three decades, new information keeps surfacing now and then that gives us a glimpse into the sheer treachery that this scam entailed.

The Bofors scam is one that has intrigued and enraged the nation for almost 3 decades. With multiple leaks and stories, it was perhaps the first inter-continent defence scam that came to the fore in Independent India and Rajiv Gandhi was smack in the middle of it. It was the first scam when broken, made the Gandhi-Nehru dynasty look fallible in the eyes of the general public and if today, their other scams like the National Herald where even Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi are allegedly involved, Robert Vadra’s land scam or Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi own dubious land deals are being spoken about freely, it is because of the Bofors scam which enabled that narrative.

The Congress party has long held that the Bofors scam is a non-issue post the late 1980s when the story was first published. However, the skeletons have continued to tumble out, revealing a new layer to this multifaceted scam every time papers emerge. While so far, only Rajiv Gandhi has been in the eye of the storm and the only connection to Sonia Gandhi has been the fact that Quattrochi, the middleman in the scam was a close friend of Sonia, now, another layer has been revealed that ties Sonia Gandhi to the Bofors scam a little more closely.

OpIndia has accessed evidence to show that Sonia Gandhi’s Italian family could have been involved in the Bofors scandal, with their names carefully hidden from the public eye. The documentary evidence also points towards the fact that perhaps, the government of India (GOI) under Rajiv Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi himself had knowledge of the alleged involvement and actively tried to cover it up.

The document mentions the names of Sonia Gandhi’s brothers-in-law

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In September 1987, functionaries of the government of India and Bofors had met for a discussion. This was only a few months after Swedish Radio in April 1987 had alleged that massive kickbacks were paid to Congressmen, Government of India and Sweden. The agreed summary record of this secret meeting between the government of India and Bofors representatives have been accessed by OpIndia.

[bctt tweet=”Questions that were never asked: Was Sonia’s family involved in bofors?” username=”opindia_com”]

This meeting was held on 15th, 16th and 18th September 1987 in the Ministry of Defence. The GOI team consisted of SK Bhatnagar who was the then Defence Secretary, PK Kartha who was the then Law Secretary, GK Arora who was the Special Secretary to the Prime Minister and NN Vohra, the Additional Secretary of Ministry of Defence. The GOI team was assisted by TK Banerji, the Join Secretary (Ordnance), Ministry of Defence. The Bofors delegation consisted of Per Ove Morberg (President of Bofors) and Lars Gothlin (Senior Vice President and Chief Jurist, Nobel Industries).

The discussion itself was a saga of mutual deceit, probably blackmail and cover-up. Interestingly, in the process of lying and asserting that no bribes were paid, Bofors mentioned two interesting names that stand out – Walter Vinci and Val De Moro.

During this meeting, Bofors denied making payments to several firms, including AE Services, to which Quattrocchi was linked. This was later proven to be a blatant lie considering the paper trail led straight to Quattrocchi. They also denied making payments to several other firms which we will delve into at a later stage. These assertions were also proven to be blatant lies and documents indicate that the Government of India knew that lies were being perpetrated.

These two names of Walter Vinci and Val de Moro stand out because right next to their names, the document mentions “A relation of PM’. Obviously, if Vinci and Moro are being called the ‘relation of PM’, it would mean that they were related to Sonia Gandhi.

Sonia Gandhi’s maiden family that hails from Italy has been elusive, to say the least. There is almost nothing that traces Sonia Gandhi’s family history except sparse mention of her father and mother. Sonia Maino was born on 9 December 1946 to Stefano and Paola Maino in Lusiana (in Maini street), a historically Cimbrian-speaking village about 35 km from Vicenza in Veneto, Italy. Her father, Stefano, was reportedly a loyal supporter of Benito Mussolini and the Fascist Party. Sonia Maino Gandhi reportedly has two sisters who still reside in Orbassano along with their mother.

We had a hard time connecting the two names to Sonia Gandhi, even though it explicitly mentioned that Walter Vinci and Val de Moro were the relatives of the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi’s husband.

We found a 2004 article published on Times of India that mentions Sonia Gandhi’s niece’s name as Aruna Vinci and Sonia Gandhi’s sister, as Allessandra. The article was based on Times of India’s interaction with Italian journalist Estelle Arielle.

The book, ‘The Red Sari’, mentions Sonia sisters as Anushka (it has been reported that her alias was Allessandra) and Nadia. Thus, the conclusion that Walter Vinci was Anushka’s husband was be drawn from the information available.

For the second name, Val de Moro, a more damning source of information surfaced. Rasheed Kidwai, who is a known Gandhi loyalist and journalist wrote a biography of Sonia Gandhi called ‘Sonia’.

In the book, Rasheed Kidwai in his book mentions categorically, that between 1984 and 1989, Sonia Gandhi (Rajiv Gandhi’s wife), Quattrocchi (the main middleman in the Bofors scam) and Jave Valdemoro were good friends. He said that the highlight of the week for Sonia Gandhi was the Sunday brunch where “these friends” got together. Valdemoro is mentioned as a “permanent fixture” in these brunch meets as is Quattrocchi. The book also says that Valdemoro was married to Sonia Gandhi’s sister, Nadia and was at the time, posted in Delhi.

From Rasheed Kidwai’s book : SONIA

It is thus established that the two names mentioned in the summary of the meeting, Walter Vinci and Val de Moro were Sonia Gandhi’s brothers in law, married to her sisters Anushka and Nadia respectively.

Why were these names mentioned in the meeting between GOI and Bofors?

The names of Walter Vinci and Val de Moro in a meeting that took place in September 1987 raises more questions than answers. The summary of the meeting basically says that Bofors has asserted that no payment was made to these two individuals as a kickback in the Bofors deal. These two names appear among many other names.

In the entire summary, Bofors appears to be arm-twisting the Government of India into not divulging relevant information to the JPC (Joint Parliamentary Committee) set up to look into the Bofors scam. In turn, the Government of India seemed to be covering its own tracks by putting information out there, that might come up in the JPC.

Interestingly, before this meeting was held, the names of Walter Vinci and Val de Moro never came up in the Bofors context. By this time, leaked documents were already being investigated and published by journalist Chitra Subramanian, though even she did not have all the 350+ documents that she would eventually acquire. In my conversation with Chitra, she confirms that at this point of time, none of the documents, reports or information that she had even mentioned Walter Vinci and Val de Moro. It was only later, by 1989-1990 that rumours of Sonia Gandhi’s family benefitting from the deal emerged and even then, the documentary evidence was not there. Chitra says that once the rumours started, she confirmed with her source, Sten Lindstrom who was investigating the Bofors case in Sweden, and asked him if he had heard of these two names at all. He had, according to Chitra, denied any knowledge of it.

Sten Lindstrom’s statement proves that other than gossip that surfaced much later, there were no allegations against the brothers-in-law of Sonia Gandhi.

It is said that information that is volunteered without a question being asked in the regard is always suspect. In this meeting, the names of Walter Vinci and Val de Moro were offered without a question being asked. While the brothers-in-law of Sonia Gandhi were mentioned, the mention of Quatrocchi remained absent.

This begs a simple question: Why were the names of Walter Vinci and Val de Moro mentioned at all? 

The blackmail

The Bofors representatives were in India to depose before the JPC (Joint Parliamentary Committee). In summary of the meeting right before the JPC hearing, it was evident that Bofors was arm twisting GOI into keeping information from the JPC. Several times throughout the meeting, the secrecy clause was reiterated and the Bofors representatives kept insisting that they would not want to depose before the JPC because the information would not be kept secret. Senior Bofors delegation was basically, meeting to find a way around information that was to be provided before the JPC. In the papers, Bofors had directly threatened the Rajiv Gandhi government to keep the information “secret”.

A direct consequence of the threatening tone adopted by Bofors was the Government of India in fact conceded that certain information would be classified ‘secret’.

Summary of discussion between GOI and Bofors representatives

The Rajiv government thus conceded to Bofors that certain information would be kept secret from the public, and even if deemed fit, from the JPC itself.

Bofors was also insistent that it needed to know how information was going to be kept secret.

Summary of discussion between GOI and Bofors representatives

A massive breach of faith has also been blatantly displayed in this meeting. The Rajiv Gandhi government indicates that the “terms of reference” of the JPC were made available to Bofors”.

Summary of discussion between GOI and Bofors representatives

It is evident from the excerpts and the summary of the meeting in general, that Bofors was pulling out every trick in its book to blackmail the government of India, led by Rajiv Gandhi, into silence. The blackmail went up to a point where the government of India even conceded to keeping details secret from the public.

The fulcrum of any blackmail is that the blackmailer must have a bargaining chip. A piece of information that is so vital that the person or institution can be arm-twisted and blackmailed into conforming to the blackmailer’s wishes.

While Rajiv Gandhi’s role and the role of other government functionaries have been long established, one wonders if there was more going on that meets the eye. The presence of the names of Walter Vinci and Val de Moro certainly begs the question whether the object of blackmail was not just Rajiv Gandhi’s personal involvement and a dirty deal, but also the involvement of Sonia Gandhi Italian family.

Did Rajiv Gandhi know?

In a September 1989 cover story, India Today reported a startling revelation. The story mentioned that the Army was in favour of cancelling the Bofors deal altogether, owing to the massive controversy surrounding the kickbacks. The Army was of the view that Bofors can be arm-twisted into revealing the names of the real culprits and the names of those who received the kickbacks in the deal. General Sundarji had revealed to India Today that the Ministry of Defence had asked him about the risks involved in cancelling the deal altogether, to which, General Sundarji had said that the risks were acceptable to the Army. In fact, he had even recommended that the deal is cancelled, not because he doubted the quality of the Howitzer, but because he too believed that the financial pressure would force Bofors to reveal the real culprits. Arun Singh was also in favour of this plan.

However, Rajiv Gandhi, reportedly, summoned a meeting on 4th July 1987 and informed the Ministry of Defence that by employing these arm twisting tactics, they were exceeding their brief. Soon after, Arun Singh resigned. India Today describes Rajiv Gandhi at that point of time as a “beleaguered man”. Reportedly, the excuse Rajiv Gandhi used to stop his government from forcing Bofors to reveal the names of the real culprits of the kickbacks was that he had already (on June 11th) given the permission for a JPC to be formed and that it was now the JPC’s job to come to a conclusion.

One would certainly ask why Rajiv Gandhi was eager to ensure that Bofors doesn’t give up the real names. Had the deal been cancelled and financial pressure was then felt by Bofors, as suggested by General Sundarji, the names of the real culprits could have surfaced. Months before the names of Walter Vinci and Val de Moro were officially taken in the meeting held in September 1987, Rajiv Gandhi ensured that no “hard line” was taken against Bofors. One can certainly, legitimately ask who Rajiv Gandhi was trying to protect. And with the names of Walter Vinci and Val de Moro surfacing in a meeting that was essentially Bofors arm-twisting the Government of India to not divulge details to the JPC, one is bound to ask whether Rajiv Gandhi knew of the extent of Sonia Gandhi’s involvement and was trying to protect her and her Italian family.

As explained earlier, the meeting that took place between GOI officials and the Bofors delegation was a mutual arm-twisting tactic to ensure neither the GOI nor the Bofors officials open their mouths to the JPC and reveal details that gave away any information regarding the kickbacks. No real information was revealed to the JPC either by the government or by Bofors. In fact, a coordinated cover-up was initiated.

For example, in the meeting right before the Bofors representatives met the JPC, the names of Walter Vinci and Val de Moro were taken. In the JPC itself, when the two representatives were being questioned, those names did not even come up once. The JPC never asked the Bofors representatives or the Defence Secretary who represented the government why these two names had come up during the meeting at all.

Quattrochi and Sonia Gandhi were close friends, in fact, as noted by Rasheed Kidwai, he was a permanent fixture in Sonia Gandhi’s Sunday brunch. It is indeed hard to imagine that Rajiv Gandhi himself did not know of his involvement. The diary entries of Ardbo, the former President of Bofors proves that much before this meeting took place between the Government of India and Bofors representatives, Quattrocchi was neck deep in the dealings. It was a diary entry from July 2, 1987, where Martin Ardbo, the managing director of Bofors, recorded that the two directors of “AE Services” have met the “Gandhi Trust(e) lawyer” in Geneva. The meeting took place only in September 1987, which means, that before this meeting, Quattrocchi had already met with the “Gandhi trusted lawyer”.

The Indian government had sabotaged the investigation against Quattrocchi from the word go. In 1999, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) named Quattrocchi in a chargesheet as the conduit for the Bofors bribe. The case against him was strengthened in June 2003, when Interpol revealed two bank accounts held by Quattrocchi and his wife Maria with the BSI AG bank, London, containing Euros 3 million and $1 million, a “curiously large savings for a salaried executive”. In January 2006, these frozen bank accounts were unexpectedly released by India’s law ministry, apparently without the consent of the CBI which had asked for them to be frozen. On 6 February 2007, Quattrocchi was detained in Argentina on the basis of the Interpol warrant. The Indian investigating agency CBI came under attack for putting up a half-hearted effort towards his extradition and India lost the case for his extradition in June 2007, the judge remarking that “India did not even present proper legal documents”. Consequently, India was asked to pay Quattrocchi’s legal expenses. In 2009, Interpol even removed the red corner notice against Q at the behest of CBI under the Congress government.

In fact, the reason provided by Manmohan Singh for dropping the investigation against Quattrocchi was that “it was not good to harass a person when the world thinks we have no case”. On August 13, 1999, Sonia Gandhi too spoke up for Quattrocchi at her first press conference and said, “The CBI has found him suspect. But we have not seen till today the papers that he has done something.”

What must be mentioned here is that in 2005, an income tax tribunal bench has ruled that Rs. 410 million was paid in bribes to Quattrocchi and Win Chadha, the Bofors agent in India

The entire Congress ecosystem has long tried to shield Rajiv Gandhi from any sort of culpability in the Bofors scam. The narrative has often been about Bofors agents acting independently, other functionaries acting without the consent of the then Prime Minister and that, Rajiv Gandhi had explicitly told Bofors that no middlemen would be entertained. This is exactly the line of argument that was taken in the JPC report as well. Defence Secretary SK Bhatnagar had maintained throughout that Rajiv Gandhi had told Bofors and even Olaf Palme, the Swedish Prime Minister, that no middlemen would be entertained, however, the evidence has always been overwhelming and the money trail firmly established.

This entire sequence of events begs an important question: Quattrocchi was bang in the middle of this scandal and it was proved, beyond doubt that he was paid massive kickbacks. In this entire sequence of events, while rumours had surfaced much later in the late 1990s that Walter Vinci and Val de Moro had grown extensively wealthy post the Bofors scam, there was absolutely nothing that linked the two directly to the scam. In fact, as explained, the names’ appearance in the meeting between GOI and Bofors representatives made no sense whatsoever. With Rajiv Gandhi actively covering up the scam and Sonia Gandhi and the government she had control over trying their best to sabotage any sort of investigation into Bofors, one is bound to question whether a) Rajiv Gandhi was being blackmailed by Bofors to keep the details under wrap or else they would divulge Sonia Gandhi and her Italian family’s connection b) Was Quattrochhi a means to get the money to Walter Vinci and Val de Moro c) What is the real extent of Sonia Gandhi’s involvement in the Bofors scam. 

‘Ringberg is asking too many questions’

Chief district prosecutor of Stockholm, Lars Ringberg, began an independent investigation into the Bofors scam in August 1987. Later, he dropped the investigation because neither the Indian government nor the Swedish government was cooperating. OpIndia accessed a handwritten note by Ardbo which said “Ringberg is asking too many questions” and “what to do if Police finds out”.

Handwritten note of Abdo

It is clear that Ardbo was worried about the police “finding out” something and in the same diary entry, he has also said that “Ringberg is asking too many questions”. This, of course, begs the question why Ardbo was so scared of Ringberg asking questions. Considering Ringberg had to drop his independent investigation due to lack of cooperation from India and Sweden, and the relationship between Swedish PM Olof Palme and Rajiv Gandhi, one is bound to wonder if the investigators were merely working against the tide while the two governments not only made money, but the Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s wife’s family was also involved.

In the Republic TV exclusive interview with Sten Lindstrom, he had revealed that in early 1986, in January, Rajiv Gandhi had taken a flight with the Swedish Prime Minister Olaf Palme where they had specifically spoken about kickbacks. Lindstrom said that Ardboo, in his last days had told Lindstrom that he was a party to that conversation and that Rajiv had specifically told Palme to transfer the money to a trust that had specifically been made for this purpose. Thus, he had revealed that the kickbacks were discussed at the topmost level.

The fact that Rajiv Gandhi was directly involved in negotiating the kickbacks and with the new OpIndia revelations, it looks like Sonia Gandhi’s Italian family was involved too, it is no surprise that despite Ringberg being willing to testify, the case went nowhere.

Lindstrom had in a 1998 interview to Outlook mentioned that Sonia Gandhi cannot feign ignorance of the scam.

To a question about the Gandhi family’s involvement, he had said:

Until more details are available, it is difficult to say. But the Gandhis, particularly now Sonia, should explain how Quattrocchi-owned companies got such fat sums as payoffs from the Bofors deal. After all, what is the connection of Sonia and the Gandhi family to Quattrocchi? Who introduced Quattrocchi and his AE Services to Bofors? At least one thing is certainly known now. A part of the payoffs definitely went to Quattrocchi. That is now the legal position and, should governments show interest, a formal case can now be lodged.

Another question that was asked was, “What are the kind of papers you have in your possession? And do they throw any light on the recipients of the payoffs?”

He had said:

There is some circumstantial evidence. It is a long story. I cannot explain it away in a hurry. All I can say is that the papers all pointed to the Gandhi family. A good way of getting to the truth is if Sonia lays down her cards on the table. By the looks of it, it seems difficult that such a thing would happen.

When OpIndia reached out to Chitra Subramaniam, the principal investigator in the Bofors India deal, and asked her why the investigations could never reach their logical conclusion and why was there never a joint investigation between India and Sweden, she said:

For countries to exchange documents in matters of international investigations, the asking country (in this case India) must have a court case in the country on the basis of which the providing country (in this case Sweden) can assist. It is disingenuous for India to say Sweden did not cooperate and share documents with them including the SNAB report – what was the basis under which such an exchange of information should have taken place considering at the time, there was no case in India.

The scandal relates to illegal kickbacks paid in a US$1.4-billion deal between the Swedish arms manufacturer Bofors with the government of India for the sale of 410 field howitzer guns, and a supply contract almost twice that amount. It was the biggest arms deal ever in Sweden, and money marked for development projects was diverted to secure this contract at any cost. The investigations revealed the flouting of rules and bypassing of institutions. The deal was signed between Government of India and Bofors on 24th March 1986. On 16 April 1987, Swedish radio revealed that massive kickbacks had been paid to functionaries of Government of India and Sweden for this deal. And thus, the can of worms was blown open with Sten Lindstrom the Swedish police official and chief investigator of the Bofors deal gave Subramaniam over 350 documents that detailed the bribes and the cover-ups in Sweden, Switzerland and India.

Chitra said:

To date, no Indian investigative agency has officially been in touch with Sten Lindstrom. 

The multi-dimensional Bofors scam is 3 decades old and mostly, the wheels of justice have breathed their last. But even after three decades, new information keeps surfacing now and then that gives us a glimpse into the sheer treachery that this scam entailed. It wasn’t just one of financial impropriety, but when where two nations and several independent investigators and journalists were lied to blatantly. With evidence now emerging that Sonia Gandhi’s Italian family could have played a part in the scam, this no longer remains a question of the past. This no longer remains a scam that must be resigned to history because its pawns are long gone. The mystery that surrounds this scam and the magnitude of it still lays buried and perhaps, only a thorough and honest investigation, including making public the several unopened boxes of evidence with the CBI can bring the country some clarity… and closure.

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