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The Rediff Special/B M Oza

Did Rajiv take the Bofors bribes?

B M Oza In a startling revelation this week, B M Oza, India's ambassador to Sweden between 1984 and 1988, has accused then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi of having taken bribes to sign the Bofors gun deal. We reproduce an exclusive extract from the ambassador's memoirs, a ringside view of the Bofors drama.

The time was Easter of 1997. Exactly ten years after Good Friday of 1987. The place was Delhi. I had retired from the Foreign Service and settled in my small apartment in the IFS complex in Delhi. I was about to leave for a game of golf. Then the phone rang. This time it was not from the PMO. It was from the CBI. I was asked if I could make myself available for a discussion with them in connection with their investigation into the Bofors deal with India. I wondered what had provoked this fresh investigation in a ten-year-old scandal. I was told that they had decided to hold a fresh probe in the light of the documents received by them from the Swiss authorities recently.

I went and saw them. They asked me to recount the entire story of the Bofors deal. I did it. They showed me the files carrying the letters, messages and the telegrams, etc. Sent by me ten years ago from Stockholm. They asked me if I stood by the views and recommendations expressed in them. I said that I did. They recorded my statement -- a rather lengthy one-based on those documents. They asked me if I wanted to add anything with the hindsight of ten years. I said that the latest documents received by the CBI from the Swiss authorities confirmed the Quattrocchi link in the deal. On that basis, I said that the Italian connection evolved during the period October 1985 to March 1986 should be thoroughly investigated. Also, I suggested that the meetings between Rajiv Gandhi and Olaf Palme during this period should be re-evaluated and the conduct of the Swedish officials and Bofors functionaries during this period should be subject to fresh scrutiny.

They asked me if, in my view, Rajiv Gandhi received bribes in the Bofors deal. I said that my appreciation of Rajiv Gandhi's role in this business had undergone quite a bit of metamorphosis. Elaborating this point, I said that when Rajiv Gandhi conveyed to Swedish Prime Minister Ingvar Carlsson on March 14, 1986 his decision to give the howitzer gun contract to Bofors, I thought he was forthright and clean. When he strongly reacted to the Swedish Radio broadcast of April 16, 1987 by calling it mischievous and a conspiracy to destabilise India, I thought he was being impetuous.

I said that when he telephoned Swedish Prime Minister Ingvar Carlsson on April 27, 1987 and asked him to terminate the official probe earlier requested by the GOI, I thought he was being naive to trust that Bofors had told the truth in their report to me on April 25, 1987. I thought he was clumsy when he called off the visit of Bofors officials in early July 1987. I thought he was confused when he refused to take action on any of my recommendations against Bofors. I thought he had something to hide when he refused to support Lars Ringberg's investigation in Sweden.

Now with the revelation of the evidence that Quattrocchi received commissions from Bofors, I said, I had no doubt in my mind that they were actually the bribe money for Rajiv Gandhi paid by Bofors through Quattrocchi. Quattrocchi was merely a conduit for siphoning money. He was not a regular arms dealer. His company Snamprogetti dealt in fertiliser and petrochemicals. He was nobody in India without the backing of Rajiv Gandhi. Even in the early eighties, when Rajiv Gandhi was not in the government, Quattrocchi had free access to senior officials of the finance ministry where I worked as joint secretary at that time.

Bofors Gun The questions to be answered now are: Who introduced Quattrocchi to Bofors? Where? When? Why? His was a peculiar kind of contract with Bofors. It was signed in November 1985 and terminated in March 1986. It was a performance-related contract. What job did he do for Bofors in those crucial five months? The answer is clear. He got the deal swung in favour of Bofors and that too in a record time. He could not have done this without Rajiv Gandhi's support. What more evidence do you want?

They asked me if in my view any other politician in India received any bribes in this deal. I said that I did not know. They asked me if, in my view, anybody from the Prime Minister's Office was guilty of receiving bribes. I said that to the best of my knowledge no officials in the PMO received any bribes of pay-offs, but they were all guilty of acting as accomplice to Rajiv Gandhi in the cover-up of his crime. They asked me if, in my view, anybody in our defence ministry or any of our military officers received any bribes from Bofors. I said that I did not know.

B M Oza on Bofors, continued

Extracted with permission from Bofors, The Ambassador's Evidence by B M Oza, published by Konark Publishers Pvt Ltd, 1997, Rs 250. Readers interested in buying a copy of the book may write to Konark Publishers Pvt Ltd, A-149, Main Vikas Marg, Delhi 110092

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