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Home Specials Exclusive: The Bofors scam angle to Rajiv Gandhi's vacation on-board INS Viraat

Exclusive: The Bofors scam angle to Rajiv Gandhi’s vacation on-board INS Viraat

While Sonia's Italian family on board an Indian Naval warship is a matter of concern on its own, considering foreigners are not allowed onboard defence assets, there is another shocking link that emerges - The Bofors scam.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi stirred a Hornet’s nest when recently, he mentioned Rajiv Gandhi’s vacation onboard INS Viraat back in 1987. According to reports from the time, Rajiv Gandhi, along with Sonia Gandhi, her Italian family, other foreigners and ministers travelled to Lakshadweep to vacation on a remote, uninhabited island called Bangaram.

India Today and the Indian Express had covered this story extensively back in the day. The details of this vacation have been extensively reported and for the past few days, extensively debated. However, there now seems to be an unmissable Bofors link to this holiday taken by Rajiv Gandhi. A portion of the Indian Express report that was published on 24th January 1988 talks about the people who were vacationing with Rajiv Gandhi.

Snapshot of Indian Express 1988 newspaper talking about Rajiv Gandhi’s INS Viraat holiday

There are two names that stand out immediately – Mrs Sonia Gandhi’s sister Nadia Valdemoro and Sonia’s brother-in-law Walter Vinci who was married to her other sister, Anushka.

In our exclusive investigative report in March 2019, which questioned whether Sonia Gandhi’s Italian family was involved in the Bofors scam. The conclusion came from the inclusion of two names in the summary of a meeting between the Government of India and Bofors representatives. The two names were Val de Moro and Walter Vinci – both ‘relatives of the prime minister’.

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

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.

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).

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.

OpIndia had asked why the names of Walter Vinci and Val de Moro came up in these meetings in the first place. In the meeting, Bofors was essentially arm twisting the Rajiv Gandhi led government not to divulge information to Joint Parliamentary Committee that was set to question the Bofors executives right after this meeting between the GoI and Bofors executives. Before this meeting, the names of Walter Vinci and Val de Moro were not in the public domain and they were certainly never ever linked to the Bofors scam before this meeting.

Why then were Sonia Gandhi’s brothers-in-law mentioned by Bofors to assert that no money was paid to them as kickbacks?

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.

In fact, we had also evidenced how Rajiv Gandhi may have been getting blackmailed by Bofors and asked whether Sonia Gandhi’s Italian family’s involvement was a part of the blackmail.

Walter Vinci and Sonia Gandhi’s sister Nadia Valdemoro being present during the vacation and possibly onboard INS Viraat (since India Today mentioned at the time that several foreigners were onboard Viraat) raises several questions especially since the timeline of the entire fiasco is so suspect.

  • April 1987: Swedish Radio exposed the Bofors scam and alleged that kickbacks had been given to several government functionaries in the Bofors scam
  • September 1987: Government of India officials and Bofors representative have a meeting right before the Bofors representatives are set to meet the JPC. Sonia Gandhi’s Italian family (Walter Vinci and Val de Moro) are named in the summary of the meeting. Bofors denied having paid any money to these two individuals. However, before this meeting, the two names had never come up in connection with the Bofors scam. Even 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.
  • December 1987: Rajiv Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi take a vacation to Lakshadweep using INS Viraat to ferry them around. During the vacation in Lakshadweep for certain and possibly, onboard INS Viraat was Walter Vinci and Sonia Gandhi’s sister Nadia Valdemoro. Nadia’s husband Val de Moro was the other individual who was named in the meeting along with Walter Vinci.
  • January 1988: Reports surfaced of serious impropriety on the part of Rajiv Gandhi vacationing on INS Viraat. Indian Express reports the presence of Sonia Gandhi’s Italian family was on vacation. It is entirely possible that they were on board INS Viraat too since the India Today report does mention foreigners onboard INS Viraat.

Interestingly, it was reported at the time that 1987, the Army was in favour of cancelling the Bofors deal so that they could arm-twist Bofors into telling India who the real culprits of the Bofors scam were. Arun Singh was in favour of this plan. 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.

In December 1987, when the INS Viraat vacation took place, as per Indian Express, Arun Singh’s family was there too, courtesy Rajiv Gandhi.

It was in July that Arun Singh had resigned from his post after insisting that the Bofors deal be cancelled and being shut down by Rajiv Gandhi for strange, inexplicable reasons. At the time, Singh had sworn that he had not received any money in connection to Bofors. He even declared his loyalty to Rajiv and said that his resignation had nothing to do with his responsibilities in the Defence Ministry.

The India Today report from 1987 reads:

“Few believed that. Singh’s supporters said he decided to quit on discovering major financial irregularities in defence deals – including Bofors – which Rajiv prevented him from investigating. Apparently, at Rajiv’s behest, Singh had invited a high-powered team led by a Bofors vice-president. It is claimed that Bofors offered to send a team, which Singh told Rajiv about. Rajiv put it to the Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs on July 5. The offer was turned down and Singh resigned.

Others dub Singh as a villain, saying he was unwilling to face the House probe into the deal. He had earlier defended the deal and denied that any middleman existed – a position dented by the Swedish Audit Bureau report confirming payoffs. Said a Rajiv confidant: “Arun Singh was looking for an excuse to leave. If he feels the Defence Ministry was a cesspool of corruption, then he was not doing his job properly as well.”

This begs another important question: Why was Arun Singh’s family vacationing with Rajiv Gandhi months after he had resigned, allegedly, over Bofors? 

With the connections now coming to the fore, Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and the Congress party must answer the following questions:

1. Was Sonia Gandhi’s Italian family onboard an Indian Naval Asset when foreigners are not allowed? We know for a fact they were present at the Island during the vacation, as disclosed by Indian Express at the time.

2. Why did Val de Moro and Walter Vinci’s names appear in the Bofors meeting when they were never suspected prior to it?

3. Only 2 months after their names came up in the Bofors scandal, why did the Prime Minister of India entertain them on a private vacation?

4. Why were their names never disclosed to the JPC?

5. Was Rajiv Gandhi protecting Sonia Gandhi’s Italian family?

6. Was there more to this Lakshadweep vacation with Bofors accused on board?

7. Why was Arun Singh’s family possibly on-board after he had resigned over the Bofors scandal?

8. Were Arun Singh and his family being ‘rewarded’ for Singh’s “loyalty”?

9. Why would the Prime Minister of India take along a resigned defence official’s family on a private vacation who had resigned under the cloud of Bofors scam?

When the conversation around INS Viraat and Rajiv Gandhi’s impropriety started, it was only about Rajiv Gandhi using Indian Naval assets for his personal use. However, with Walter Vinci and Arun Singh’s family vacationing with Rajiv Gandhi months after Walter Vinci and Val de Moro’s names came up in the Bofors scandal and were hidden from the JPC, several other more serious questions about not only impropriety but compromisation of national security and quid-pro-quo arise. Perhaps if there was a discussion of a quid-pro-quo, Bangaram, a small uninhabited island would be the perfect setting.

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Nupur J Sharma
Editor, OpIndia.com since October 2017

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