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Commentary/Vir Sanghvi

Whom did Chadha and Quattrocchi pay off?

There is something faintly ridiculous about Tiger Joginder's latest posturings on the Bofors issue. Each day the CBI spokesman appears on television to tell us which hapless retired general has been summoned to the CGO Complex and the Bureau issues press release after press release about Special Investigating Teams and new investigations.

Nobody at the CBI seems to have realised that there is nothing to be gained from interrogating former defence secretaries and service chiefs. We've been down this road twice before and nothing remains to be learnt. (Though of course, it does help to get Tiger and friends on television night after night.)

Nor is there any great mystery about the bundle of documents that occupied the seat next to Tiger on the flight back from Switzerland. Everybody knows that the Hinduja documents were not transferred -- that will take another month or two.

For those of you with short memories -- and Bofors was a long time ago -- let me remind you that the key issue was not the quality of the gun. Both Bofors and Sofma, the two principal contenders, made perfectly acceptable howitzers. The problem was deciding which one was more suited to the Indian army's needs.

A section of the army preferred Sofma. Others, including General Sundarji, thought that Bofors was a better choice. Inevitably the differences became personalised and after a while, merit was submerged in a fog of army politics.

Eventually, Army Headquarters chose Bofors and the Cabinet cleared the recommendation within 24 hours. General Sundarji has repeatedly said that nobody forced him to choose Bofors over Sofma and while there are generals who believe that Sundarji made the wrong choice, it has never been suggested the Bofors paid him off.

The issue therefore, is not the selection, but the kickbacks. If you focus on the selection, you make the mistake of believing that because Bofors offered money, it got the order.

But that's not the point because everybody offered money. All arms manufacturers pay commissions of several million dollars on large orders. If Sofma had got the deal, it would have paid off its agents. And those agents would have had to share the loot with the political establishment.

As it turned out, Bofors got the contract, and it paid out $ 640 million. But the politicians were secure either way. Regardless of who got the deal, they would have made money.

The point is: Who did Bofors pay? What services did they perform? And who did these recipients pay off in turn? So far, we've all had a fairly shrewd idea of who these recipients were but no investigator could go further because there was no documentary evidence.

Now the CBI has finally been given the evidence by the Swiss. The logical course of action would be to launch extradition proceedings against Ottavio Quattrocchi and Win Chadha, and to get them to explain why they made millions out of Bofors.

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