The ad for a popular headache pill in the 1990s showed a woman, her head bound by a cloth, obviously in the throes of an acute headache. A few minutes after she'd taken the pill she would chirp: 'It's gone'!
As far as the Hinduja brothers Gopichand, Srichand and Prakashchand are concerned, Delhi [ Images ] high court judge R S Sodhi's order acquitting them of all wrongdoing in the Rs 64 crore Bofors payoffs case is like the headache pill. It is now the Central Bureau of Investigation that is holding its head wondering where its crack team, led by Director Joginder Singh, went wrong.
Complete coverage: The Bofors scandal
'Tiger' Joginder Singh, as he was then known, has never been a shrinking violet. As CBI chief, the gregarious Singh once even attended a fashion show sponsored by a glossy magazine. Singh is unconventional enough to wear two watches, to keep better track of time! He joined the Indian Police Service at the age of 20, and would have been a top cop in Karnataka [ Images ] (the cadre he chose), if he hadn't been posted to the CBI by H D Deve Gowda [ Images ], with whom he shared a rapport on account of the fact that both spoke Kannada.
He has been director general of the Central Industrial Security Force, the Railway Protection Force, the Narcotics Control Bureau, and the Indo-Tibetan Border Police. Known for being conscientious rather than clever, he believed in sharing information, not hiding it.
It is possibly this trait that saw him being dumped in the freedom-fighters' cell of the home ministry when he proceeded aggressively against Laloo Prasad Yadav [ Images ] (as he was then known) in the fodder scam. Yadav was then supporting the coalition government at the Centre. Confused at the quick turnover of prime ministers, the CBI couldn't keep track of all those it was supposed to investigate.
In the case of the 144-mm Bofors howitzers, it was Sweden's Dagens Nyheter newspaper that first reported the payoffs made to secure the contract. This was reportedly lodged in three, possibly more, Swiss bank accounts known as Pitco, Moresco and/or Moineau and Lotus.
The Hindujas tried to prevent the Swiss ministry of justice from transferring the documents to the CBI, and fought the case in various courts in Switzerland [ Images ], from the Examining Magistrate's Court to the Cantonal Court. Losing the case there, they appealed to the Federal Court and, later still, to the Federal Councillor.
The CBI, under Singh, kept winning its argument that the documents needed to be shown in Indian courts in the public interest. The Hindujas thought the battle was conclusively lost when the Swiss authorities handed over copies of crucial bank papers to Indian ambassador K P Balakrishnan in Berne. It was these documents that Singh brought back with him from Geneva.
Last Tuesday, the Delhi high court ruled that the documents were neither original nor authenticated. Among them were the diaries of Martin Ardbo, then president of Bofors. It is on the basis of these dairies and other papers that the CBI was able to file a chargesheet of bribery, cheating and forgery against the Hindujas charges that were dropped after last week's order. So what went wrong?
There are two possibilities: one, that the documents did not meet with the rigorous authentication standards of Indian courts and the Evidence Act. The damage was done when the CBI counsel admitted earlier during the hearing that the CBI had no original documents.
The other is that the documents were merely circumstantial proof of the Hindujas' involvement in the Bofors case, although no one contests the fact that the 'Pitco' account had as its mailing address, 'care of G P Hinduja, New Zealand [ Images ] House, Haymarket, London' [ Images ].
It did not help that the CBI, during the P V Narasimha Rao era, became an extension of a private policing department meant for the PMO's use and that this tradition was carried on by his successor, H D Deve Gowda. Whether it was the hawala case or the Bofors case, the CBI was told what to look for. The public discussion on 'evidence' that the CBI had found on this or that case, especially during the directorship of Joginder Singh, created further distortions.
If at the time he had gone about his job quietly, beefing up the CBI's grossly inadequate legal department, instead of issuing press notes, it is possible that all those who were paid bribes to ensure the 144-mm guns contract went to Bofors might have been brought to book.
Today, Wineshwar Nath (Win) Chadha, one of the arms agents, is dead. Ottavio Quattrochhi, the second person named by letters rogatory to the Swiss banks, is at large. And the Hindujas have been cleared of all the charges, we're now told, largely because of slipshod work by the CBI.