Indian opposition hits back over Bofors verdict

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Opposition parties claimed Friday that the two-decade-old Bofors arms scandal had been given a “political burial” by the Congress party and called on the Criminal Bureau of Investigation to take the case to the Supreme Court.

The Delhi high court on Tuesday dismissed charges of conspiracy to cheat the Indian government made against the Europe-based Hinduja brothers Srinchand, Gopichand and Prakash accused of involvement in the 1980s Bofors arms scandal.

The Bofors affair continues to be of great political importance in India because of the allegations that former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, a figure still venerated in the Congress party that is now led by his widow, Sonia, had accepted illegal kickbacks.

The Bharatiya Janata Party opposition has accused the Congress-led government of burnishing Mr Gandhi's memory at the taxpayer's expense and last week drew up a “partial list” of 16 government schemes named after the assassinated politician.

The court's decision to abandon the 14-year-old trial on technical grounds was hailed by the Congress party, which immediately called for an apology from all who had accused the late prime minister of wrongdoing.

The move to end the trial came after additional solicitor general B. Datta last week conceded that the CBI could not produce original or authenticated versions of Swiss documents that formed the basis of the case.

The Communist Party of India (Marxist), which supports the Congress-led government in parliament, and the BJP both called on the CBI to correct “infirmities” in the documents and take an appeal to the Supreme Court.

The scandal, which revolved around India's controversial purchase of 400 Swedish howitzers, burst on to the Indian political scene in 1986 and contributed to Mr Gandhi's defeat in a national election three years later.

The BJP called on the CBI to challenge both the Delhi High Court's posthumous clearing of Mr Gandhi's name in February 2004 and its decision on Tuesday to quash all charges against the Hinduja brothers.

The Hindu nationalist opposition party also demanded that every effort be made to bring Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi, who was alleged to have paid kickbacks to Mr Gandhi, back to India for trial.

“It is surprising that after such a long investigation, such infirmities and elementary errors existed in preparing the case,” the CPI(M) said, adding that the trial had highlighted “corruption in high places”.

The CBI, which was criticised by the court for wasting taxpayer money and for causing “huge economical, emotional, professional and personal loss” to the Hinduja brothers, says it is considering its next steps.

Two of the principal actors in the Bofors drama, S. K. Bhatnagar, a former defence secretary, and Wim Chada, a businessman who represented Bofors in India, have died.

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