The Supreme Court on Friday, 2 November, dismissed the CBI's appeal against the Delhi High Court's 2005 verdict discharging all the accused, including the Hinduja brothers, in the politically-sensitive Rs 64 crore Bofors pay-off case.
A bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi rejected the CBI plea seeking condonation of the 13-year delay in filing the appeal against the 31 May 2005 judgment of the high court.
It said it was not convinced with the grounds of the CBI to condone over 4,500 days' delay in filing the appeal. The CBI had filed the appeal on 2 February this year. The apex court, however, said the CBI can raise all grounds in the appeal against the same high court verdict filed by advocate Ajay Agrawal who has also challenged the judgment.
The top court has already admitted the petition filed by Agrawal who had contested the 2014 Lok Sabha election against the then Congress president Sonia Gandhi from Rae Bareilly.
Attorney General KK Venugopal asked the top court to make it clear in its order that dismissal of CBI appeal would not preclude the probe agency from carrying out investigation in the case.
The apex court, however, did not mention anything in its order on this issue.
The high court in its 2005 judgment had quashed all charges against the three Hinduja brothers – SP Hinduja, GP Hinduja and PP Hinduja – and others under the Prevention of Corruption Act.
After the NDA government came to power, there were speculations that the CBI would take a call to either respond as a respondent in Agrawal's petition or prefer a separate appeal.
After lot of deliberation, the CBI this year got the nod from the NDA government to file an appeal in the apex court.
Hershman’s Interview Led the Dominoes Falling
The filing of the appeal assumes significance as Attorney General KK Venugopal in January had advised the agency against moving a petition against the high court verdict after a delay of more than a decade.
Later, after consultations, law officers were in favour of the appeal as the CBI came out with "some important documents and evidence" to challenge the high court order.
Sources in February had said the agency swung into action after the attorney general orally gave it a go-ahead to file the appeal in the case in which it cited the October 2017 interview of private detective Michael Hershman, who alleged that the then Rajiv Gandhi-led Congress government had sabotaged his investigation.
Hershman, who is the president of the US-based private detective firm Fairfax, had claimed in television interviews that Rajiv Gandhi was "furious" when he had found a Swiss bank account "Mont Blanc".
He had also alleged that the bribe money of the Bofors gun scandal had been parked in the Swiss account. The CBI in its appeal stated that further investigation was necessary in view of the reports relating to Hershman's interviews.
A Brief History of Events
Before the 2005 verdict of Justice RS Sodhi (since retired), another judge of the Delhi High Court, retired Justice JD Kapoor, had on 4 February 2004, exonerated Rajiv Gandhi in the case and directed the framing of charge of forgery under section 465 of the IPC against Bofors company.
The Rs 1,437-crore deal between India and Swedish arms manufacturer AB Bofors for the supply of 400 units of 155 mm Howitzer guns for the Indian Army was entered into on 24 March 1986.
Swedish Radio on 16 April 1987 had claimed that the company had paid bribes to top Indian politicians and defence personnel.
The CBI on January 22 1990 had registered the FIR 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.
It had alleged that certain public servants and private persons in India and abroad had entered into a criminal conspiracy between 1982 and 1987 in pursuance of which the offences of bribery, corruption, cheating and forgery were committed.
The first charge sheet in the case was filed on 22 October 1999 against Chadda, Ottavio Quattrocchi, the then defence secretary SK Bhatnagar, Ardbo and the Bofors company.
A supplementary charge sheet was filed against the Hinduja brothers on 9 October 2000.
A special CBI court in Delhi on 4 March 2011 had discharged Quattrocchi from the case, saying the country could not afford to spend hard-earned money on his extradition which had already cost Rs 250 crore.