Rahul Gandhi & Arnab Goswami: The interview that wasn’t – Anand Ranganathan

Rahul Gandhi & Arnab Goswami

Arnab Goswami: Mr Rahul Gandhi, welcome to Frankly Speaking.

Rahul Gandhi: Thank you, Arnab.

Arnab: So finally … here we are – your first one-to-one interview in 10 years.

Rahul: Yes.

Arnab: Why?

Rahul: Why what?

Arnab: Why has it taken you 10 years to give an interview?

Rahul: Well, that’s not entirely true. I’ve always …

Arnab: Now you’ve probably heard about me.

Rahul: Yes.

Arnab: I don’t ask any easy questions, Mr Gandhi.

Rahul: So I’ve been told.

Arnab: You might not like it.

Rahul: I’m ready.

Arnab: In which case, may I ask Mr Jairam Ramesh and Dr Montek Singh Ahluwalia to kindly leave this room?

Rahul: … [Looks at the two men uncomfortably. Gestures with his eyes for them to leave.] …

Arnab: Thank you, Mr Gandhi.

Rahul: This wasn’t my idea, by the way. I was prepared to face you on my own. Just that …

Arnab: Mr Gandhi, we should begin. We have plenty to cover.

Rahul: Yes. I’ve been wanting to elaborate on the idea of India that …

Arnab: Do you think Congress was responsible for the 1984 riots?

Rahul: What?

Arnab: Straight question.

Rahul: … Thousands were killed. I profoundly regret the loss of even a single life. And let me tell …

Arnab: Do you think Congress was responsible for the 1984 riots?

Rahul: This has been debated umpteen times. Answer is no.

Arnab: No?

Rahul: … Some Congress leaders were, yes.

Arnab: Who?

Rahul: Some.

Arnab: Name them, please.

Rahul: It’s public knowledge.

Arnab: All the more easier for you to name them, then.

Rahul: It’s in the court records. The guilty will be punished.

Arnab: Have they been?

Rahul: They will be. I have full faith in the Indian judiciary.

Arnab: Have they been, Mr Gandhi?

Rahul: My faith in Indian democr …

Arnab: How long has it been since the anti-Sikh riots?

Rahul: … 28 years … no …

Arnab: How long?

Rahul: 30 years …

Arnab: Have the guilty been punished?

Rahul: We have certainly punished them.

Arnab: Have you?

Rahul: Yes.

Arnab: By “we”, you mean?

Rahul: Congress. Indian National Congress.

Arnab: How?

Rahul: Sorry?

Arnab: How? By giving them tickets to fight elections?

Rahul: No.

Arnab: No? Remember the Chidambaram shoe-throwing incident?

Rahul: … We … Look – my faith in the justice system is unshakeable.

Arnab: Really? Did your mother receive a summons from the United States of America Justice System?

Rahul: What? No.

Arnab: No?

Rahul: She was there on medical treatment.

Arnab: That wasn’t the question.

Rahul: What was the question?

Arnab: Did Ms Sonia Gandhi receive a summons or not?

Rahul: Might have …

Arnab: Sorry, could you be louder? …

Rahul: I said, she did. Happy?

Arnab: And what happened to it?

Rahul: I have full faith in the Indian Judiciary not the American one.

Arnab: Really?

Rahul: Really.

Arnab: Tell me. Do you hold Mr Modi responsible for the 2002 riots?

Rahul: Yes. Undoubtedly.

Arnab: Why?

Rahul: Why? Because he orchestrated the whole pogrom.

Arnab: Who said so?

Rahul: Everyone says so. The people, the politicians, the media – your own correspondents have told me so.

Arnab: What about the Supreme Court?

Rahul: What about it?

Arnab: Has it held Mr Modi guilty?

Rahul: Sorry?

Arnab: You just now said that you have full faith in the Indian judiciary.

Rahul: I do.

Arnab: So I’m asking you this again. It doesn’t matter what you or I think. I’m asking you whether the Supreme Court has held Mr Modi guilty.

Rahul: It hasn’t.

Arnab: And do you respect the Supreme Court verdict?

Rahul: … I do.

Arnab: So he isn’t guilty, then.

Rahul: … Ok, he isn’t.

Arnab: Please repeat that for the benefit of our viewers.

Rahul: Yes, he isn’t guilty. But he should certainly apologise.

Arnab: What about Jadgish Tytler? Is he guilty?

Rahul: Mr Modi should certainly apologise.

Arnab: That is a matter of choice for an individual. I might want him to apologise. You might want him to apologise. But the question here is whether the Supreme Court of India has held him guilty of a crime or not.

Rahul: He should apologise.

Arnab: I ask again. What about Jadgish Tytler? Is he guilty?

Rahul: The courts haven’t delivered their verdict yet.

Arnab: Correct. So he might be guilty.

Rahul: … He might be.

Arnab: So Tytler might be guilty but Modi isn’t.

Rahul: … Yes, I suppose that is correct.

Arnab: … Moving over to another …

Rahul: Thank you. Let me start off by saying that through the RTI and the NREGA, we have …

Arnab: Tell me, Mr Gandhi, do you think Mr Vadra – your brother-in-law – do you think he got undue favours from DLF in the land deals?

Rahul: What?

Arnab: I am asking about Robert Vadra. Do you think DLF gave him undue favours?

Rahul: No.

Arnab: No? Mr Vadra purchased 31 properties amounting to 300 crores in a frighteningly short span of time.

Rahul: He might have. He is a businessman. Business people buy stuff all the time. Do you question Tatas or Birlas?

Arnab: Do Tatas get unsecured loans? What about the unsecured loan?

Rahul: That’s between Robert and DLF.

Arnab: Nothing to do with you?

Rahul: Nothing.

Arnab: What about the Sky Light cheque that was never encashed?

Rahul: Precisely. It was never encashed.

Arnab: Yes, why wasn’t it?

Rahul: I’m sorry. You must realise that the young generation of this country wants a …

Arnab: Sky Light – Mr Vadra’s company – had Rs 1 lakh in their account, yet they wrote a cheque for 7.5 crores towards Onkareshwar Properties. Corporation Bank cheque number 607251 for Rs 7.5 crores. Why?

Rahul: It was strictly above-board.

Arnab: You know anything about Onkareshwar Properties?

Rahul: They are legitimate.

Arnab: Onkareshwar is owned by Govind Kanda, member of Haryana Pradesh Congress Committee. Brother of Congress legislator Gopal Kanda who is in jail.

Rahul: Unfortunate.

Arnab: Within two months of the presentation of 7.5 crore sham cheque, Mr Vadra sold the land to DLF for Rs. 58 crores. He shortly began receiving this money in instalments, first of which arrived in June of 2008. This advance money went into paying sums to Onkareshwar. Magically, Sky Light didn’t put any of its money to buy land and yet was receiving money into its coffers.

Rahul: What’s all this got to do with me?

Arnab: Your family member indulges in such activities. He wants to join politics, he said so a while ago. You might become the PM of this country. You mean to tell me all this has nothing to do with you?

Rahul: Of course not. Look, these are police and judicial matters. I have full faith in the judiciary.

Arnab: The problem is they haven’t been made into police or judicial matters.

Rahul: Why haven’t they?

Arnab: Good you ask that. They should be, isn’t it?

Rahul: … Yes.

Arnab: Sorry? What was that again Mr Gandhi?

Rahul: I said, yes. They should be.

Arnab: Thank you. Now about the other matter that …

Rahul: Thank you, finally. I’ve been wanting to say this for some time now. India stands on the threshold of a destiny that …

Arnab: Who was Quattrocchi?

Rahul: What?

Arnab: I asked you a simple question, Mr Gandhi.

Rahul: I didn’t hear it.

Arnab: So I’ll ask again.

Rahul: Ask me about 2G, about CWG, about Coalgate …

Arnab: Who was Q?

Rahul: Ask me about the corruption of others in the Congress party. Ask me about Adarsh.

Arnab: Who was this Q?

Rahul: Corruption is a problem. I know it is. I want to deal with it with an iron-hand. We’ll spare no one. Ask me about CWG.

Arnab: Who was Q? Who was he?

Rahul: I’ll straighten the corrupt out, I promise. 2G, Coalgate …

Arnab: Mr Gandhi, we haven’t much time. Please answer the question.

Rahul: What question?

Arnab: Who was Q?

Rahul: Yes, he was a family friend. So?

Arnab: Did he receive kickbacks from Bofors AG?

Rahul: I …

Arnab: What was his relationship with you father Mr Rajiv Gandhi?

Rahul: Look …

Arnab: How did this simple unassuming middleman for the company Snamprogetti suddenly win more than 50 contracts in an era when foreign companies were a no-no? What is AE Services?

Rahul: You …

Arnab: It was his company, wasn’t it? A company with no employees and a paid up capital of 100 liras.

Rahul: I …

Arnab: He was a family friend, you say. And he received kickbacks. How does that reflect on you, your family?

Rahul: He never.

Arnab: Never what?

Rahul: He never received kickbacks.

Arnab: Mr Gandhi, are you aware that it was proven beyond doubt that his company received money from Bofors AG? This is not drawing room gossip, Mr Gandhi. Q received 3% kickbacks for the Bofors deal.

Rahul: So?

Arnab: So I want to ask you again. Who was Q? Why was he close to your family? Why did you let him get away?

Rahul: You should ask that to the BJP as well.

Arnab: Don’t you worry, Mr Gandhi, I will. I will ask Mr Advani about the alleged quid pro quo – of course, I will.

Rahul: Good.

Arnab: But right now I have you in front of me. So let me ask you again.

Rahul: No you may not.

Arnab: Sorry, didn’t hear you …

Rahul: I said, you may not … if you want this interview to carry on.

Arnab: Yes, of course, I want it to carry on …

Rahul: Good. So let me ask you something. Why is it that whenever we talk of crippling poverty and economic models for development …

Arnab: Mr Gandhi, you didn’t let me finish. I said, I want this interview to carry on, but ultimately it is your choice whether you want it to carry on … So, now … please tell me what the relationship between Quattrocchi and your father was.

Rahul: Do you want me to call off this interview?

Arnab: And why would you do that?

Rahul: Because you keep asking me irrelevant questions.

Arnab: They are not irrelevant, Mr Gandhi. They may appear irrelevant because every Indian journalist who has ever, and I mean ever, interviewed you or your sister or your mother, has never ever, never, ever, never, never, ever asked you these questions.

Rahul: I think we are done here.

Arnab: Who was Q, Mr Gandhi? Why did he take kickbacks from Bofors?

Rahul: Mr Goswami, there’s a limit.

Arnab: Why did your family protect Q? Why and how did he get away?

Rahul: Bas … enough … [gets up] … dosti bani rahe …

Arnab: All that is fine … but who is Q?

Rahul: [Detaches the mic and leaves the room.]

Arnab: … [shouts after him] … Thank you, Mr Gandhi … [Stares blankly at the Husain opposite].

Post-interview panel discussion:

Arnab: Vinod Mehta – welcome to the debate. First question coming to you, Siddharth Varadarajan, welcome as well, Vinod – your first comments.

Vinod: Arnab, I’m very sorry to have to tell you this, but I didn’t like the interview at all.

Arnab: Sorry, what, Vinod?

Vinod: I mean, Arnab, you asked him every irrelevant question you could think of! I mean, this is preposterous! It really is. You disappointed me, Arnab, you really did. The whole nation wanted to hear about Rahul’s grand idea of India, and here you were, bothering him with ridiculous questions …

Arnab: Alright, the debate is heating up … as we slip into a short break … don’t go anywhere, ladies and gentlemen … – News Laundry, 28 January 2014

Anand RanganathanAnand Ranganathan is the author of The Land of the Wilted Rose, of the The White Mahatma Quartet. He studied Chemistry at St. Stephen’s College, Delhi, and went on to pursue a doctorate from Cambridge. A man of varied interests, he is researching dengue and tuberculosis at the International Center of Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology at Delhi. He can be reached at anand.icgeb@gmail.com or on Twitter @ARangarajan1972

See also

Ask Rahul Baba a question!


The Gandhis need to come clean on their wealth – Saisuresh Sivaswamy

Rahul, Sonia, Robert & Priyanka.

Saisuresh Sivaswamy“In the world’s largest democracy, the voters have no clue about the wealth of their netas, not just the Gandhis. But the latter stand out, one, because they occupy the centre-stage of Indian politics, and, two, by deed and inference they seem to suggest that their brand of politics is different from the discredited version that we see play out on our television screens day after day, night after night.” – Saisuresh Sivaswamy

Sonia Gandhi as DurgaThrough the weekend the social media was abuzz with talk of Sonia Gandhi’s net worth being higher than that of Queen Elizabeth II. The reason for the online chatter: A feature by the credible and creditable Huffington Post on the wealth of world leaders, which rated Gandhi higher than the British monarch in the pecking order.

HuffPost was not the first to make such a claim, but like with previous such listings by other news publications that either met with a stodgy silence from the ruling family of India or a redaction, HuffPost has since clarified:

Editor’s Note: Sonia Gandhi and the former emir of Qatar Hamid bin Khalifa al-Thani have been removed from this list. Gandhi was originally included based on a listing on a third-party site which was subsequently called into question. Our editors have been unable to verify the amount, removed the link, and regret any confusion….

But in this note lies a story. Which is that in the world’s largest democracy, the voters have no clue about the wealth of their netas, not just the Gandhis. But the latter stand out, one, because they occupy the centre-stage of Indian politics, and, two, by deed and inference they seem to suggest that their brand of politics is different from the discredited version that we see play out on our television screens day after day, night after night.

But for a matriarch who, it was claimed, was the piloting force behind the revolutionary Right to Information Act which removed the veils of secrecy surrounding the government, she and her offspring, not to mention extended family, like the rest of their political ilk, have been chary of disclosing their wealth to the nation.

As none of the Gandhis are members of the Union Council of Ministers, they are not required to submit updated details of their wealth to the Prime Minister’s Office. Thus, the only details of their wealth is from candidate affidavits for the 2009 election, going by which Mrs Gandhi can never rank higher than the British queen, unless the latter has fallen on really really bad times.

For these are her details: Cash of Rs 75,000; Rs 28,61,660.89 in a bank account with UCO Bank; Rs 20 lakh (Rs 2 million) in mutual funds; RBI bonds for Rs 12 lakh (Rs 1.2 million); 10 shares of Maruti Technical Services Pvt Ltd (unquoted); 500 shares of Western India Tanneries Ltd; NSS  Rs 199,380; PPF with interesting amounting to Rs 24,88,887.39; jewellery (presumably gold) of 2518.450 gms worth Rs 11,08,100 in 2008; silverware of a whopping 88 kg valued five years ago at Rs 18,37,440.

Rahul & Priyanka campaigning in Sultanpur, UPMore interesting are the details of immovable properties owned by her. The 2009 affidavit says she owns three bighas of land in village Dera Mandi and 12 bighas in village Sultanpur, valued at Rs 219,300. Then there is an ancestral property in Italy, valued at Rs 18.05 lakhs (Rs 1.80 million).

But, but, but … the important point here is that either the valuation is at face value, like with mutual funds, RBI bonds etc, or market value as on March 31, 2008. If she was a Union minister, we would have known the current market value of every bit of investment and property she owns.

Even this, it seems, is not a very popular move among our ministers, for as of the morning of December 3, 13 ministers are yet to submit their asset details, three months after the deadline expired.

And here is the clincher: The Indian Express points out that a Bahujan Samaj Party candidate in the 2008 Delhi assembly election had declared his landholding similar to what Sonia Gandhi holds in village Dera to be worth Rs 18.37 crore (Rs 183.7 million)!

According to a Supreme Court ruling, candidates contesting elections are required to announce the value of their assets, but this seems to be something observed more in breach, most of them preferring to either not mention current details or take shelter behind outdated valuations.

Robert Vadra: Not a mango person!When you think about it, rather than hiding behind legalities, verbal obfuscation and such, the HuffPost report could have been an opportunity for the Gandhi family, including the son-in-law about whose real estate dealings so much has been said and written, to tell the nation just how much they are worth.

The Gandhis, for all their claims, you realise, never ever address the media or the nation. What we hear from them is second-hand information, attributed to ‘sources close to the family’, and even this information is presented to show the family in a good light (like how Sonia wanted the Food Security Bill passed despite being admitted to hospital during the vote) etc, never what the nation wants to know (and one is not talking of a television show here).

Even their reluctance to accept an office of power, you realise, could be tied to their reluctance to come clean about themselves, their wealth.

Could this reluctance be tied to the family’s projection of themselves as the last bastion of the aam-aadmi‘s [mango people’s] interests?

Do they fear that a full disclosure of their not-inconsiderable assets would go against their carefully-cultivated pro-poor image?

In the absence of any word from any of them, all one can do is speculate. And add to the not-too-flattering buzz on the social media about them. Even on this medium, you realise, the family has been loath to engage, leaving their frontline defence to party loyalists.

Which is a real tragedy. For the India that reposed its faith in the Gandhi mystique in 2004, and followed it up again in 2009, is not the same nation that will go to the polls next year.

It is a changed India, impatient India, questioning India — and the UPA headed by Mrs Gandhi being the primary agent of this change.

RTI LogoIt is this India that seeks, needs and wants a clarification from the first family about itself. Debunking it would be disowning the very change they have wrought.

And in the absence of disclosures from them, there will always be a miasma of doubt over their sincerity towards a new and clean brand of politics. – Rediff.com, 3 December 2013

Rajiv Gandhi Swiss Bank Account

Sonia-G richer than Queen of England and Sultan of Oman according to new report – Maleeva Rebello

Gandhi, chief of India's ruling Congress party, hiding from the Opposition in parliament.

Maleeva Rebello“Sonia Gandhi is the President of the Indian National Congress and has a net worth of US $2 billion. Sonia Gandhi has made her net worth from her many years in politics and [is] the longest serving [INC] president in the past 125 years. She was born in Lusiana, Veneto, Italy and has been involved in politics for over 13 years.” – Celebrity Networth

On their website, Huffington Post World has a report that claims Congress President Sonia Gandhi is placed No12 on the list of rich world leaders.

The report places Sonia Gandhi as richer than Elizabeth II, the Queen of England and Bashar Al-Assad, President of Syria.

In 2009 while filing her nomination for the Lok Sabha election, Gandhi, stated that she owns neither a car nor a house in India but she has an ancestral home in Italy valued at Rs 18.02 lakhs.

Sonia Gandhi’s assets, according to the affidavit, totalled Rs 1.38 crore, nearly Rs 1 crore less than what her son Rahul Gandhi reportedly has.

Gandhi’s affidavit said that she had Rs 75,000 in cash and Rs 28.61 lakh in bank deposits.

In addition she had mutual funds worth about Rs 20 lakh and Rs 12 lakh in Reserve Bank of India bonds.

A sum of Rs 199,000 was deposited in post offices and Rs 24.88 lakh with the Public Provident Fund.

Sonia Gandhi’s jewellery, weighing about 2.5 kg, was valued at Rs11 lakh while 88 kg of silver possessed by her was stated to be worth about Rs 18 lakh.

She owns two plots of agricultural land totalling up to about 15 bighas and valued at Rs 219,000. Their location is not mentioned in the affidavit.

Sonia Gandhi paid Rs 558,000 in income tax for the assessment year 2008-09 and Rs 32,512 in wealth tax.

But this report in one of the top websites in the world claims, the INC president has $2 billion wealth which is roughly Rs 90,000 crores.

However, the report does not clearly state how it has arrived at the comparisons and monetary values of the leaders.

The Middle East according to the report is the richest region as 7 in the list of 20 come from there. – DNA, 2 December 2013

DNA adds a disclaimer today Dec. 3, 2013:

The Congress had rejected the report and the Huffington Post report now carries a footnote at the bottom of the article stating, “Sonia Gandhi and the former emir of Qatar Hamid bin Khalifa al-Thani have been removed from this list. Gandhi was originally included based on a listing on a third party site which was subsequently called into question. Our editors have been unable to verify the amount, removed the link, and regret any confusion.”

Ottavio Quattrocchi: The Italian who stained three Indian prime ministers – M. D. Nalapat

Ottavio Quattrocchi and the people he stained.

M.D. Nalapat“The upright PM Manmohan Singh now seeks to roll back the Right to Information Act so as to make it more rather than less difficult for ordinary citizens to access information about state shenanigans. Honesty is of zero value to the citizen unless the PM can enforce it across his government, a task that Manmohan Singh has failed to do.” – Prof. M.D. Nalapat

Ottavio QuattrocchiLast week, Ottavio Quattrocchi, who for decades was in India as the representative of Italy’s Snam Progetti industrial conglomerate, passed away. He was very successful in winning contract after contract for the company from the 1970s onwards, especially in the state-controlled fertiliser industry. When Quattrocchi entered a government office, even Secretaries to Government used to quake in their boots, aware that the Italian could either boost or damage their careers. Those who helped him get juicy contracts got promoted while the few who opposed the many concessions given to Snam and other Italian companies suffered.

Ottavio Quattrocchi and his wife Maria being from Italy, and in Delhi at a time when there were few from that country resident in that city, it was not surprising that Rajiv Gandhi’s Italian wife Sonia got to know them, or that the two families became close to each other socially. In India, anything connected with the Nehru family is covered by a veil of secrecy maintained by successive governments, so there are few records of the contact between Indira Gandhi’s son and daughter-in-law with Quattrocchi and his wife Maria.

Rajiv Gandhi and the Bofors gun.These days, those close to the presiding matriarch of the Nehru family, Sonia Gandhi, claim that neither she nor Rajiv was in any way close to the Quattrocchis. That the Italian and his wife were just acquaintances. They deny reports that Ottavio, Rajiv, Maria and Sonia met frequently in India, the UK and Italy, and that their families went on holidays together. If it was not his closeness to Rajiv and Sonia, it must have been his magnetic personality that worked such miracles for Ottavio Quattrocchi, enabling him to get file after file cleared so that his principals landed juicy contracts. Although a stranger to the defense trade, Mr Q was chosen by Bofors to be a commission agent in the howitzer deal that company had with the Government of India, a deal that netted him millions of dollars in commission. What he did was obscure, but Bofors landed the contract, to the anger of the French competitors.

Ottavio Quattrocchi & Maria QuattrocchiThat French companies are masters in information and disinformation in furtherance of their commercial interests is known to every serious analyst in India, and it was not long before items began to appear in the international and the national press about alleged kickbacks being paid to top politicians and officials in India to grab the contract. If this were true, it would hardly be a surprise. Bribes are the norm rather than the exception in government contracts in India, especially those involving large sums of money, such as defense or energy deals. Indeed, there are credible sources who claim that a percentage of every dollar that is paid by certain companies for importing crude oil into India gets transferred to secret bank accounts operated by nominees of a powerful political family in the country. However, an examination of the tax returns filed by the members of this family shows that their annual Sonia Gandhi & Ottavio Quattrocchiincome is less than the cost of a month’s foreign travel by them, in a context where some members of the family travel abroad on an average of twenty-seven times each year. Of course, no details of such travel (and the places of stay) to Dubai, London, New York and Bangkok are ever furnished by any government in India. Politicians in the country are unlike those in Pakistan, who go after each other. Here, they each protect the other while publicly professing to expose them.

Manmohan Singh, who is known to be personally honest in a government steeped in bribery, is no exception. Indeed, the upright PM now seeks to roll back the Right to Information Act so as to make it more rather than less difficult for ordinary citizens to access information about state shenanigans. Honesty is of zero value to the citizen unless the PM can enforce it across his government, a task that Manmohan Singh has failed to do.

Ottavio's financer son Massimo and Rahul Gandhi grew up together.Coming to Ottavio Quattrocchi and his mysterious power over successive Prime Ministers of India, perhaps owing to the natural charm that is present in most Italians, on July 29,1993 then Prime Minister P. V. Narasimha Rao personally intervened to enable Quattrocchi to flee the country despite being a subject of enquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation. This columnist knew the Prime Minister (and let it be confessed, admired him in many respects), and he spoke to him about Mr Q, pointing out that it would be wrong to allow a man considered to be at the heart of illicit deal-making in India to leave Delhi for London en route to Milan. The Prime Minister mentioned that a powerful politician had sent a lady Minister of State to meet him with the promise that (the politician) “would forever be an ardent backer” of Mr Rao, should he allow Mr Q to escape. The PM had made up his mind.

CBI HQ New DelhiFlash forward ten years, to the period when BJP stalwart A. B. Vajpayee was Prime Minister. A court in Malaysia was hearing the extradition request of the Central Bureau of Investigation (an agency more political in its functioning than any political party). While the hearing was going on, this columnist was having lunch in Bangalore’s West End hotel with a high official from Malaysia, there to visit a friend. When he spoke about Mr Q finally being forced to come back to India, the high official laughed. “Do you know that Quattrocchi’s lawyers are preparing the briefs for the other side? That they are in close touch with each other? There is no chance that he will lose the case”. The official went on to allege that Mr Q was boasting that Prime Minister Vajpayee himself had sent a private assurance that “no harm would be allowed to come to him”. Hopefully, the Malaysian official was either not telling the truth or had been the victim of rumours. To believe that Vajpayee or his Law Ministry would so subvert the course of justice so as to save Quatrocchi strains credulity. However, clearly the CBI lawyers botched up their case, for evidence that had been found compelling by a Swiss court was rejected by the Malaysian judge. By 2003, Quatrocchi was able The Qongress Partyto leave Malaysia, a free man. Had he brought back Ottavio Quattrocchi, Prime Minister Vajpayee would have been a hero to civil society in India. Instead, many began to believe that Mr Q had been deliberately let off, whatever be the truth or otherwise behind such a perception. The whiff of impropriety that wafted over Team Vajpayee led to the BJP’s defeat the next year, at the hands of the Congress Party. Mr Q had felled yet another politician. – Pakistan Observer, 19 July 2013

» Professor Madhav Das Nalapat holds the UNESCO Peace Chair at the Department of Geopolitics and International Relations at Manipal University in Manipal, Karnataka, India.

Amitabha Pande

Chitra Subramaniam Duella and Indian ambassador to Switzerland  K.P. Balakrishnan

Chitra Subramaniam, investigative journalist who broke the Bofors story in 1987, and Indian ambassador to Switzerland K.P. Balakrishnan with a sealed box of secret documents from Swiss banks that were being sent to the Government of India. Where are these documents now? Read Chitra’s story on News Laundry here.

See also

Sonia Gandhi is the fourth richest politician in the world – Preeta Memon

Lady Journalist“Global Financial Integrity (GFI), a non-profit institution working against global black funds, has recently estimated that the Indian wealth secreted away is about $462 billion, approximately equal to Rs 20.80 lakh-crore. The GFI says that more than two-thirds of it was looted away under the liberalisation regime. This is what the GFI says about the character of the loot: “From 1948 through 2008, India lost a total of $213 billion in illicit financial flows (or illegal capital flight)” through “tax evasion, corruption, bribery and kickbacks, and criminal activities”. Does one need a seer to say under what head would the $2.2 billion in Sonia family’s secret account (which would have grown to $9 to $13 billion by now) fall?” – Preeta Memon

Sonia Gandhi as DurgaAs India is approaching towards a general election in less than a year, the leader of ruling Indian National Congress has been listed as world’s fourth richest politician with a total wealth of over US$ 18 billion, which is invested in real estate, telecommunication and various business projects around the world, while significant portion of the amount is also deposited in secret bank accounts. Italian born Indian politician Sonia Gandhi alias Antonia Maino was already in the controversy centering one of the biggest bribe scandals in India – 3G Spectrum — wherefrom influential politicians looted billions of dollars through corruption and fraud.

Business Insider has a short feature, “Meet The 23 Richest Politicians In The World“, and Dr Manmohan Singh’s boss, Ms Antonia Maino aka Sonia Gandhi is listed as the 4th richest with wealth estimated between US$ 2-19 billion. This must have given Kapil Sibal and Digvijaya Singh the conniptions, and I am sure that it lends more weight to Dr Subramanian Swamy’s charges against AM aka SG.

Indira is IndiaSonia Gandhi’s late husband and former Prime Minister of India, Rajeev Gandhi came into media’s exposure, when he was caught into Bofor’s kickback scandal, though Indian government tried its best to defend Rajeev Gandhi to be a ‘Mr. Clean’ by tightly restricting access to official documents by the media. What was Rajiv Gandhi’s fatal error in politics? It does not need a seer to say that it was his claim to honesty — branding himself as ‘Mr Clean’ — that proved fatal to him. Indira Gandhi was his contrast. Asked about corruption in her government, she said nonchalantly, ‘it was a global phenomenon’. This was in 1983. An honest Delhi High Court judge even lamented how could corruption be controlled when someone holding such a high position had almost rationalised it. The result, no one could ever charge Indira Gandhi with corruption, because she never claimed to be clean. But, ambitious to look ideal, Rajiv proclaimed honesty and so provoked scrutiny; in contrast, Indira, opting to be practical, immunised herself against scrutiny. Eventually, Rajiv’s claim to honesty became the very cross on which he was crucified in the 1989 elections when the Bofors gun shot the Congress out of power. The lesson to the political class was: don’t claim to be honest, if you really are not so. The hard lesson seems forgotten now by the Gandhi family itself. Sonia Gandhi, instead of following Indira’s safe path, is wrongly caught on Rajiv’s risky steps. The consequences seem to be ominous. Will the politics of 1987 to 1989 repeat?

Following Rajiv and forgetting Indira, Sonia Gandhi proclaimed ‘zero tolerance’ to corruption at a party rally in Allahabad in November 2010. She repeated it at the Congress plenary in Delhi weeks later. Asking the cadre to take the corrupt head on, she said that her party was ‘prompt’ in acting against the corrupt; ‘never spared the corrupt’ because corruption impedes development’. This was almost how Rajiv Gandhi spoke in the Congress centenary in Mumbai 25 years ago. Two crucial differences marked Rajiv away from Sonia. First, when Rajiv claimed to be ‘Mr Clean’, he had no scams to defend against. But, Sonia claims to be honest amidst huge and continuing scams — CWG, Adarsh2G Spectrum allocation scam…. Next, Rajiv had a clean slate to begin with, with no known skeletons in his cupboard till the Bofors scam smashed his ‘Mr Clean’ image. In contrast, Sonia’s slate is full of credible exposures of bribes and pay-offs in billions of dollars secreted in Swiss bank accounts, not counting Quattrocchi‘s millions from Bofors. To make it worse, for almost two decades now, she has not dared to deny the exposures or sue the famous Swiss magazine or the Russian investigative journalist who had put out evidence of bribe against the Sonia family. Seen against this background, Sonia’s vow to act against the corrupt seems like a suspect hooting ‘catch the thief’ and scooting away. This is the main story that unfolds here:

Schweizer Illustrierte: Rajiv Gandhi's bank account in SwitzerlandUS$ 2.2 billions to 11 billions

A stunning exposure on Sonia Gandhi’s secret billions in Swiss banks came, surprisingly, from Switzerland itself, where the world’s corrupt stash away their booty. In its issue of November 19, 1991, Schweizer Illustrierte, the most popular magazine of Switzerland, did an exposé of over a dozen politicians of the third world, including Rajiv Gandhi, who had stashed away their bribe monies in Swiss banks. Schweizer Illustrierte, not a rag, sells some 2,15,000 copies and has a readership of 9,17,000 — almost a sixth of Swiss adult population. Citing the newly opened KGB records, the magazine reported ‘that Sonia Gandhi the widow of the former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was controlling secret account with 2.5 billion Swiss Francs (equal to US$2.2 billion) in her minor son’s name’. The US$2.2 billion account must have existed from before June 1988 when Rahul Gandhi attained majority. The loot in today’s rupee value equals almost Indian Rupees 10,000 crore. Swiss banks invest and multiply the clients’ monies, not keep them buried. Had it been invested in safe long-term securities, the US$ 2.2 billion bribe would have multiplied to US$ 9.41 billion (Indian Rupees 42,345 crore) by 2009. If it had been put in US stocks, it would have swelled to US$ 12.97 billion (Indian Rupees 58,365 crore). If, as most likely, it were invested in long-term bonds and stocks as 50:50, it would have grown to US$11.19 billion (Indian Rupees 50,355 crore). Before the global financial meltdown in 2008, the US$ 2.2 billion bribes in stocks would have peaked at US$ 18.66 billion (Indian Rupees 83,900 crore). By any calculation the present size of the US$ 2.2 billion secret funds of the family in Swiss banks seems huge — anywhere between Indian Rupees 43,000 plus to some Indian Rupees 84,000 crore!

Yevgenia AlbatsKGB papers

The second exposé, emanating from the archives of the Russian spy outfit KGB, is far more serious. It says that the Gandhi family has accepted political pay-offs from the KGB — a clear case of treason besides bribe. In her book The State Within a State: The KGB and its Hold on Russia Past, Present, and Future, Yevgenia Albats, an acclaimed investigative journalist, says: “A letter signed by Viktor Chebrikov, who replaced Andropov as the KGB head in 1982 noted: ‘the USSR KGB maintains contact with the son of the Premier Minister Rajiv Gandhi (of India). R Gandhi expresses deep gratitude for the benefits accruing to the Prime Minister’s family from the commercial dealings of the firm he controls in co-operation with the Soviet foreign trade organisations. R Gandhi reports confidentially that a substantial portion of the funds obtained through this channel are used to support the party of R Gandhi’.” (p.223). Albats has also disclosed that, in December 2005, KGB chief Viktor Chebrikov had asked for authorisation from the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, “to make payments in US dollars to the family members of Rajiv Gandhi, namely Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Ms Paola Maino, mother of Sonia Gandhi.” And even before Albats’ book came out the Russian media had leaked out the details of the pay-offs. Based on the leaks, on July 4, 1992, The Hindu had reported: “the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service admits the possibility that the KGB could have been involved in arranging profitable Soviet contract for the company controlled by Rajiv Gandhi family”.

Schweizer IllustrierteIndian media

Rajiv Gandhi’s sad demise delayed the Swiss and Russian exposé on Sonia being picked up here. But Indian media’s interest in it actually coincided with Sonia Gandhi assuming leadership of the Congress. A G Noorani, a well-known columnist, had reported on both Schweizer Illustrierte and Albats’ exposés in Statesman (December 31, 1988). Subramanian Swamy had put out the photocopies of the pages of Schweizer Illustrierte and Albats’ book in his website along with the mail of the Swiss magazine dated February 23, 2002 confirming that in its article of November 1991 it had named Rajiv Gandhi with a total of Swiss Franc 2.5 billion ($2.2 billion) in secret account; it had also offered to supply an original copy of the magazine to Swamy. These facts were again recalled in my article in The New Indian Express (April 29, 2009) written in response to Sonia Gandhi speech at Mangalore (April 27, 2009) declaring that, “the Congress was taking steps to address the issue of untaxed Indian money in Swiss banks”. The article had questioned her about her family’s corrupt wealth in Swiss banks in the context of her vow to bring back the monies stashed away abroad. Rajinder Puri, a reputed journalist, has also earlier written on the KGB disclosures in his column on August 15, 2006. Recently, in India Today (December 27, 2010) the redoubtable Ram Jethmalani has referred to the Swiss exposé, asking where is that money now? So the Indian media too has repeatedly published the details of the secret billions of the Gandhi family investigated by the Swiss and Russian journalists. Amal Datta (CPI(M)) had raised the US$ 2.2 billion issue in Parliament on December 7, 1991, but Speaker Shivraj Patil expunged the Gandhi name from the proceedings!

Rahul, Sonia, Robert & Priyanka.Self-incriminating

But, what has been the response of Sonia or Rahul, major after June 1988, to the investigation by Schweizer Illustrierte and Albats and to the Indian media’s repeated references to their investigation? It can be summed up in one word: Silence. Thus, apart from the exposés, the deafening silence of the Gandhis itself constitutes the most damaging and self-incriminating evidence of the family’s guilt. When Schweizer Illustrierte alleged that Sonia had held Rajiv Gandhi’s bribes in Rahul’s name in Swiss banks, neither she nor the son, protested, or sued the magazine, then or later; nor did they sue A G Noorani or Statesman when they repeated it in 1998, or later; nor would they sue Subramanian Swamy when he put it on his website in 2002; neither did they sue me, or the Express when the article was carried in April 2009. When major papers, The Hindu and The Times of India included, had carried the expose on KGB payments in the year 1992 itself adding that the Russian government was embarrassed by the disclosures, neither of the Gandhis challenged or sued them; nor did they sue Yevgenia Albats when she wrote about KGB payments to Rajiv Gandhi in 1994. Neither did they act against Swamy when he put Albats’ book pages on his website or when Rajinder Puri, a well-known journalist, wrote about it in his column on August 15, 2006. However, a feeble but proxy suit was filed by Sonia loyalists to defend her reputation when Albats’ exposé was made part of the full-page advertisement in The New York Times in 2007 issued by some NRIs to ‘unmask’ Sonia to the US audience, as they claimed. The suit was promptly dismissed by a US court because Sonia herself did not dare file the suit. Shockingly even that suit did not challenge the $2.2 billion Swiss account at all!

Imagine that the report in Schweizer Illustrierte or in Albats book was false and Sonia Gandhi did not have those billions in secret accounts in Rahul Gandhi’s name or the family was not paid for its service to the KGB as alleged. How would they, as honest and outraged people, have reacted? Like how Morarji Desai, then retired and old at 87, responded in anger when, Seymour Hersh, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist, had mentioned in his book that Morarji Desai was a ‘paid’ CIA mole in the Indian Cabinet. Morarji Desai forthwith filed a libel suit. Commenting in The American Spectator, Rael Jean Isaac wrote in 2004, five years after Morarji Desai had passed away, that Hersh habitually indulged in character assassination; and in his attempt to do down Henry Kissinger, Morarji Desai became the victim. Isaac added that Desai, 87, calling it a “sheer mad story”, reacted in outrage with a libel suit seeking US$50 million in damages. When the suit came up, as Desai, 93, was too ill to travel to US, Kissinger testified on Desai’s behalf, flatly contradicted Hersh’s charge and stated that Desai had no connection to the CIA. That is how even retired and old persons, honest and so offended and outraged, would act. But see the self-incriminating contrast, the complete absence of such outrage, in Sonia, who is reigning as the chairperson of the UPA now, neither retired or tired like the nonagenarian Morarji Desai, being just 41 when the story broke out in Schweizer Illustrierte. Imagine, not Sonia or Rahul, but Advani or Modi had figured in the exposés of Schweizer Illustrierte or Albats. What would the media not have done to nail them? What would the government of Sonia not have done to fix them?

Indian black money coming back home!Indian Rupees 20.80 lakh-crore loot

The billions of the Gandhi family being both bribes and monies stashed away in Swiss banks, they are inextricably linked to the larger issue of bringing back the huge national wealth stashed abroad. All world nations, except India, are mad after their black wealth secreted in Swiss and like banks. But India has shown little enthusiasm to track the illicit funds of Indians in Swiss and other banks. Why such reticence?

When during the run-up to the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP leader L K Advani promised to bringing back, if voted to power, Indian monies estimated between $500 billion and US$1.4 trillion stashed abroad, the Congress first denied that there was such Indian money outside. But when the issue began gathering momentum, Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi had to do damage control and promise that the Congress too would bring back the national wealth secreted abroad. Global Financial Integrity (GFI), a non-profit institution working against global black funds, has recently estimated that the Indian wealth secreted away is about $462 billion, approximately equal to Rs 20.80 lakh-crore. The GFI says that more than two-thirds of it was looted away under the liberalisation regime. This is what the GFI says about the character of the loot: “From 1948 through 2008, India lost a total of $213 billion in illicit financial flows (or illegal capital flight)” through “tax evasion, corruption, bribery and kickbacks, and criminal activities”. Does one need a seer to say under what head would the $2.2 billion in Sonia family’s secret account (which would have grown to $9 to $13 billion by now) fall? But accretions, if any, from the loot in 2G and CWG where the numbers are even bigger are not still accounted. Now comes the more critical, yet practical issue. When the Sonia Gandhi family is among the suspects who have secreted away monies abroad, how will it affect the efforts to bring back the wealth stashed away by others?

Rajiv Gandhi and the Bofors gun.Looters safe

Just a couple of examples will demonstrate how the government is unwilling to go after Indian money secreted abroad. As early as February 2008 the German authorities had collected information about illegal money kept by citizens of different countries in a Lichtenstein bank [LGT Group]. The German finance minister offered to provide the names of the account holders to any government interested in the names of its citizens. There were media reports that some 250 Indian names were found in the Lichtenstein bank list. Yet, despite the open offer from Germany to provide the details, the UPA-II government has never showed interest in the Indian accounts in the Lichtenstein bank. The Times of India reported that “the ministry of finance and PMO have, however, not shown much interest in finding out about those who have their lockers on the secret banks of Liechtenstein which prides itself in its banking system”. But under mounting pressure the Indian government asked for details not under the open offer but strategically under India’s tax treaty with Germany. What is the difference? Under the tax treaty the information received would have to be kept confidential; but, if it were received openly, it can be disclosed to the public. Is any further evidence needed to prove that the government is keen to see that the names of Indians who had secreted monies abroad are not disclosed?

Hasan AliThe second is the sensational case of Hasan Ali, the alleged horse-breeder of Pune, who was found to have operated Swiss accounts involving over Rs 1.5 lakh-crore. The income tax department has levied a tax of Rs 71,848 crore on him for concealing Indian income secreted in Swiss accounts. This case is being buried now. The request sent to the Swiss government was deliberately made faulty to ensure that the Swiss would not provide details. Some big names in the ruling circles are reportedly linked to Hasan Ali. That explains why the government would not deepen the probe. It is Hasan Alis and the like who transport through hawala the bribes of the corrupt from India. If Hasan Ali is exposed, the corrupt will stand naked. This is how the hawala trader and the corrupt in India are mixed-up.

Is it too much to conclude that thanks to Sonia family’s suspected billions in Swiss accounts the system cannot freely probe the US$ 462 billion looted from India at all?

Tail-piece: The total wealth of both Gandhis, as per their election returns, is just Rs 363 lakh, Sonia owning no car. Sonia lamented on November 19, 2010, that graft and greed are on the rise in India!! Rahul said on December 19, 2010, that severe punishment should be given to the corrupt! – Weekly Blitz, Dhaka, 19 September 2012

» Preeta Memon is a correspondent for Weekly Blitz in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Rajiv Gandhi

World Luxury Guide’s List of the World’s Richest Politicians

Name Country Position Wealth
Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz Saudi Arabia King $21 billion
Hassanal Bolkiah Brunei Sultan $20 billion
Michael Bloomberg USA Mayor of New York $18.1 billion
Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan United Arab Emirates President (And emir of Abu Dhabi) $18 billion
Vladimir Putin Russia Prime Minister $40 billion
Savitri Jindal India Member of the Legislative Assembly in  Haryana $13.2 billion
Zong Qinghou China Member, National People’s Council $10.8 billion
Serge Dassault France Senator $8 billion
Silvio Berlusconi Italy Member of Parliament $7.8 billion
Hans-Adam II Liechtenstein Prince $4-7.6 billion
Wu Yajun China Member, National People’s Council $6.67 billion
Suleiman Kerimov Russia Member, Federation Council (upper house of Duma / parliament) $5.5 billion
Sonia Gandhi India President, Indian National Congress (political party) $4.5 billion*
Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum United Arab Emirates Prime Minister / Vice President of United Arab Emirates; absolute monarch of Dubai $4.5 billion
Sebastian Piñera Chile President $2.5 billion
Lu Guanqiu China Member, National People’s Council $2.4 billion
Andrei Molchanov Russia Member, Federation Council (upper house of Duma / parliament) $1.8  billion
Kostyantin Zhevago Ukraine Member of Parliament $1.2 billion
Asif Ali Zardari Pakistan President $1-$4 billion
Darrell Issa USA Member, House of Representatives $195-700 million
Michael McCaul USA Member, House of Representatives $258-380 million
Jane Harman USA Member, House of Representatives $160-326 million
John Kerry USA Senator $181-281 million
Sources: Forbes.com, OpenSecrets.org, Bloomberg.com, Wikipedia.org, Guardian.co.uk; Current as of March 2012.
* As listed in Schweizer Illustrierte in 1991 as the alledged wealth of her deceased husband, Rajiv Gandhi.

Sonia Gandhi is in Bofors’ range now – Virendra Parekh

Bofors Ghost“Why rake up the Bofors mud now? Because there are worrying similarities between 1980s and now: a rudderless government, a faltering economy, an insurgent anti-corruption movement, and weakness on the external economic front. As then, so now, India’s defence procurement is insufficiently transparent, and open to misuse by influence peddlers. India is still not proactive enough in catching those using offshore accounts to bypass Indian law. And the central figure in the Bofors saga continues to call the shots.” – Virendra Parekh

Ottavio Quattrocchi & wife MariaLike Banco’s ghost at Macbeth’s table, Bofors refuses to go away. Every time Congress thinks the gun has fallen silent for the good, it booms again. The barrel of the Bofors gun now points unmistakably towards Sonia Gandhi, if journalists would only show the courage and perspicacity to collate facts and interpret them correctly. Politicians as a class are too compromised to attempt this.

With characteristic shamelessness, some Congress leaders demanded an apology from the opposition parties for leveling allegations against Rajiv Gandhi of accepting a bribe in the Bofors gun scandal. They did so following the recent interview given by Mr. Sten Lindstrom, former chief of Swedish Police who inquired into the Bofors swindle, saying that there is no available evidence that bribe money made it to Rajiv Gandhi’s bank account.

Sten LindstromFamily loyalists glossed over a far more damaging assertion by the same investigator: Rajiv Gandhi watched the massive cover-up in India and Sweden and did nothing. Why?

The clue to the political beneficiaries of Bofors payouts is money received by the British company A.E. Services. In criminal law parlance, A.E. Services is the smoking gun. In November 1985, Colonel Bob Wilson, A.E. Services’ lawyer who had served in the Gorkha Regiment, wrote a letter to Bofors MD, Martin Ardbo, offering to help him secure the gun contract from the Indian government by 31 March 1986 in return for 3 per cent commission.

The offer was clear: pay us if and only if you get the contract by 31 March 1986. Nothing was to be paid if the contract was not secured at all or secured after that date. When the offer was made, French company Sofma was the front-runner among the shortlisted companies. As it happened, Bofors secured the contract on 24 March 1986. Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi then handled the defence portfolio himself.

We now know that behind A.E. Services stood Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi. Money paid to A.E. Services found its way into bank accounts controlled by Quattrocchi and his wife. Over $7 million was paid from A.E. Services to Colbar Investment of which Quattrocchi was the direct beneficiary.

The logical question to ask is: who can make such an offer and also fulfill it? How can an Italian businessman swing such a large deal which had a direct bearing on Indian national security? It is an understatement to say that he was very close to the decision maker(s). It may be more accurate to say that he was acting as a dummy for them. That alone could give him the confidence to make the kind of offer he did.

Rajiv Gandhi and the Bofors gun.How Rajiv Gandhi and subsequent governments beholden to the Gandhi family tried to shield Quattrocchi is by now well-known and well documented. How he was allowed to slip out of the country by the Narasimha Rao government, how nobody in Sweden or Switzerland was allowed to question him, how he flew out of Malaysia over the weekend before a plea for his extradition to India could come up in court on Monday, how after being arrested by Interpol in Argentina he walked free because CBI goofed up in furnishing documents, how his bank accounts in London were allowed to be de-frozen and how he cleansed them the next day – all this is too well-known to need repetition.

The relevant question is: Why was this Italian businessman of such tremendous importance to the Prime Minister of India that he staked the survival of his own government to ensure that he never opened his mouth? Whom was Rajiv Gandhi trying to protect by shielding Quattrocchi? Would he do all this for an Italian businessman or for someone far nearer and dearer? The answer is easy to guess, though only Quattrocchi can confirm the same.

It would not have been difficult to establish the truth if even one government since had taken genuine interest in getting to the bottom of the case. Congress governments headed by Rajiv Gandhi, Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh could hardly have been interested in pursuing the case, for obvious reasons. Governments beholden to Congress, such as those headed by Chandrashekhar, Deve Gowda and I.K. Gujaral would also not wonder in the vicinity of the truth for their own survival.

Arun NehruThat leaves only the V.P. Singh and A.B. Vajpayee governments which could have followed the case in a meaningful manner. V.P. Singh had Arun Nehru as an important member of his cabinet and party. Arun Nehru was directly linked to the deal and even found a mention in Martin Ardbo’s diary under the code name N and Nero. V.P. Singh himself was more interested in milking the scandal for political gains. His government registered a case and had some Swiss accounts frozen, but did little else. Lindstrom tells us that Indian investigators who came to Sweden were more interested in implicating Amitabh Bachchan in the case than anything else, for reasons that remain unclear to this day.

Atul Bihari VajpayeeThe country had high hopes from the Vajpayee government. Not only was it beyond the shadow of the Gandhi family (or so one thought), but it also included Arun Shourie who had played a major role in exposing the scandal as firebrand editor of Indian Express. But its record on Bofors was no better than that of others. Who tied its hands? For whose benefit? The Hindujas were recipients of the Bofors commission and were said to be close to some BJP leaders. The BJP leadership therefore cuts a sorry figure when it demands a fresh probe into the scandal.

Why rake up the mud now? Because there are worrying similarities between 1980s and now: a rudderless government, a faltering economy, an insurgent anti-corruption movement, and weakness on the external economic front. As then, so now, India’s defence procurement is insufficiently transparent, and open to misuse by influence peddlers. India is still not proactive enough in catching those using offshore accounts to bypass Indian law. And the central figure in the Bofors saga continues to call the shots.

Tailpiece: “In 2004, when I asked Lindstrom to name some living persons who had full details of the Bofors kickbacks he responded without hesitation, ‘Martin Ardbo, Ottavio Quattrocchi and Sonia Gandhi,’” reports Seema Mustafa, DNA, 27 April 2012. – Vijayvaani, 5 May 2012

» Virendra Parekh is Executive Editor, Corporate India, and lives in Mumbai

Bofors: Swedish investigator Sten Lindstrom remembers the scam – Chitra Subramaniam-Duella

Chitra Subramaniam-DuellaApril 2012 marks the 25 anniversary of the Bofors-India media revelations, which began on April 16, 1987 with revelations on Swedish state radio. The Hoot presents an interview with the man who decided to leak over 350 documents to former Indian journalist Chitra Subramaniam-Duella, then with The Hindu and later with The Indian Express and The Statesman.

The documents included payment instructions to banks, open and secret contracts, hand written notes, minutes of meetings and an explosive diary. They led to the electoral defeat of Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi and blew gaping holes in Swedish prime minister Olof Palme’s record as a champion of peace and disarmament. Above all, they formed the basis for the first ever transfer of secret bank documents from Switzerland to India.

Sten Lindstrom is the former head of Swedish police who led the investigations into the Bofors-India gun deal.

In this interview to Chitra Subramaniam-Duella, he reveals himself as the Swedish deep throat and explains why he chose to turn whistle-blower. – The Hoot

Sten LindstromQ – Why did you decide to identify yourself now?

A – Twenty five years is a good land-mark. We have had some time for reflection. Now it is time to speak again. Corruption levels in the world are increasing. There is new business around corruption with companies selling products that measure corruption instead of questioning why it is there in the first place. In a world of shrinking resources and ruthless ambition, we have to ensure that survival instincts that brought us out of the caves do not push us back in there because of a few greedy people. I hope I can contribute to the global struggle against corruption by sharing what I know.

Q – Tell us something about yourself.

A – Like many Swedes of my generation, my wife Eva and I were raised in the best traditions of social-democracy. Swedes are a hard-working people. Equity and justice for all is something we hold dear and for which we have strived as a nation. We built our institutions, our political and social systems around principles that were gold standards. We led the world as much in business forums as in the social arena.

Bofors gun Q – Nostalgia?

A – No, I base myself on hard evidence that is even more relevant today than it was 25 years ago. We are still world leaders in many fields, but somewhere our guiding principles have fallen by the wayside. No one is against successful businesses and it can be done. Here in Sweden we have the Wallenbergs, in India you have the TATA group. These are global companies and institutions. Their business ethics and corporate social responsibility work is not a slide on a power-point. It is generations of hard work. Bofors was a good company. Their products were good. Unfortunately in the race to expand business, they resorted to illegal shipments, bribery and corruption. They claimed a tax-deduction for the money they had to pay as bribes.

In my long career as a police officer I have seen many things. What was shocking in the whole Bofors-India saga was the scale of political involvement in Sweden breaking all rules including those we set for ourselves. Bofors was a wake-up call for most Swedes who thought corruption happens only far away in Africa, South America and Asia. There was disbelief and hurt when they found that some of their top politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen were no better than others. The $1.3 billion deal with India for the sale of 410 field howitzers, and a supply contract almost twice that amount was the biggest arms deal ever in Sweden. Money marked for development projects was diverted to secure this contract at any cost. Rules were flouted, institutions were bypassed and honest Swedish officials and politicians were kept in the dark. Our former Prime Minister Olof Palme was talking peace, disarmament and sustainable development globally, while we were selling arms illegally, including to countries that were on our banned list. My office, the office of Hans Ekblom, the public prosecutor in Stockholm, our National Audit Bureau – everything was ignored. So was the Swedish tax-payer.

The Managing Director of Bofors Martin Ardbo had worked very hard for this deal. He brought over 900 jobs to Karlskoga where Bofors is headquartered for at least a decade. When the stories started appearing Ardbo was a shaken man. He knew that I knew that he had made a political payment even more secretly than the rest to close this deal. He told me he didn’t have a choice.

Q – How did the India angle in Bofors crop-up?

A – It was an accident. We were conducting several search and seize operations in the premises of Bofors and their executives. I have some experience in this area, so I asked my team to take everything they could find. In the pile were one set of documents to Swiss banks with instructions that the name of the recipient should be blocked out. An accountant doing his job asked why anonymity was necessary since the payments were legal. Bofors was unable to explain and then we found more and more documents leading to India.

Q – Looking back, what would you say are some of the lessons learnt?

A – There are several, but I could mention a few. The role of the whistle-blower is a part of democracy. When all official channels are clogged, you have to take a decision. We have a culture here that it is okay to blow the whistle. I have met other whistle blowers. I knew what I was doing when I leaked the documents to you. I could not count on my government or Bofors or the government of India to get to the bottom of this. My only option was to leak the documents to someone we could trust.

There needs to be a free and fair discussion in the media about itself. The media is the watchdog of our society – but who is watching the media? Most whistle blowers around the world leak information to the media because they feel they owe it to their country, their job or the position they are elected to.

Genuine whistle-blowers also expect the media to be responsible and according to me this means that the media has to understand the motives of whistle-blowers. Not everyone is driven by the same motive. This is where investigative journalism comes in. Every role has its limits. I cannot become a journalist, a journalist cannot become a judge and a judge cannot become a politician. Who controls the media, what are their interests? What happens if a reporter is also part of the management? Do journalistic ethics compete with business and political interests of the media organisation? Can an ombudsman be the answer? If not, let us all work together globally to find a solution we all respect and understand.

There is also a lot of debate in the world about the role of middlemen in arms deals. Some say they should not exist at all, others say they have a role. I believe they have a role insofar as marketing a product is concerned and they should be remunerated accordingly in a transparent way so that the cost to the buyer is not circulated as kickbacks. Where it becomes illegal and dangerous is when the ambit of their work includes paying politicians and bureaucrats and in some cases journalists to push their product. Once you are in their clutches, it is very difficult to extricate yourself.

Q – What is your view on Wikileaks?

A – All leaks have a motive and they play a role. Wikileaks went up to a point and it is welcome. I have not seen many instances of journalists or governments taking the leaks further to the next level. It is not enough for journalists to ask questions. In their privileged positions as watchdogs, they have to take the leaks further without fear or favour.

Q – With time and distance, how do you view your leaks?

A – I believe I did the best I could. I watched you work for almost one year before I took my decision to leak the Bofors-India documents to you. You were one of many journalists from India and Sweden as well as many politicians from India who visited me during this period. I was lectured to and told how to do my job. Many mentioned Rajiv Gandhi’s involvement and that the guns were duds hoping I would react. I am used to these tricks. I told everyone the guns were excellent. The problem was in the procurement process.

People trust people. Trust is built over time. The one and only visit by your former editor N. Ram of The Hindu to my office in whose presence I handed over the documents is a detail. I would have leaked the documents to you even if you had worked for any other newspaper.

N. Ram of The HinduThe Hindu’s role in all this was that of a medium of communication. I met them because you insisted. I was disappointed. They published the documents as and when they wanted without any respect for the risks other people were taking to get the facts out.

The most explosive documents that involved the political payments were Ardbo’s notes and diary. The Hindu published them several months after they had them. In the meantime there was a serious difficulty. I got a message that my name was circulating in Delhi’s political circles as the whistle-blower. This caused a lot of stress and difficulty for me. You will recall the month you were not allowed to call me while we investigated who leaked my name as the whistle-blower in India. There were consequences for me and my family. The Hindu seemed unconcerned.

Q – Any regrets?

A – No. I took an informed decision to give you the documents. But I will say this much – when newspapers think they are more important than the story, journalism suffers. When editors cross their limits, it can be dangerous.

Q – Tell us something about those days, people’s reactions, your difficulties.

A – People in Sweden were shell-shocked. Bo G Andersson of the Dagens Nyhetter (DN), Burje Remdahl and Jan Mosander of the Swedish Radio are investigative journalists of repute. They were exposing illegal sales of arms to eastern Europe, the middle-east, even Vietnam through Australia. There was total disbelief in Karlskoga. The Indian deal was the straw that broke the camel’s back because it showed that corruption had reached right to the top in Sweden and in India. They were very brazen about it. There was no evidence of any bribe being paid to Palme, but he and some of his ministers knew exactly what was going on.

Q – Quarter century later, any reflections on why Rajiv Gandhi’s name came up?

A – There was no evidence that he had received any bribe. But he watched the massive cover-up in India and Sweden and did nothing. Many Indian institutions were tarred, innocent people were punished while the guilty got away. The evidence against Ottavio Quattrrocchi was conclusive. Through a front company called A.E. Services, bribes paid by Bofors landed in Quattrocchi’s account which he subsequently cleaned out because India said there was no evidence linking him to the Bofors deal. Nobody in Sweden or Switzerland was allowed to interrogate him.

Ottavio Quattrocchi & Rajiv GandhiArdbo was terrified about this fact becoming public. He had hidden it even from his own marketing director Hans Ekblom who said marketing middlemen had a role, but not political payments. Ardbo was also concerned about the role of Arun Nehru who had told Bofors in 1985 that his name and Rajiv Gandhi’s name should not appear anywhere. As the stories began to appear, Ardbo knew what I knew. He had written in his notes that the identity of N (Nehru) becoming public was a minor concern but at no cost could the identity of Q (Quattrocchi) be revealed because of his closeness to R (Rajiv Gandhi). He had also mentioned a meeting between an A.E. Services official and a Gandhi trustee lawyer in Geneva. This was a political payment. These payments are made when the deal has to be inked and all the numbers are on the table. I spent long-hours interrogating Ardbo. He told me Nehru was the eminence grise but not much more. He said often that he would take the truth with him to his grave. I met him a little while before he passed away.

Under pressure from Swedish and Indian media and with the threat of a cancellation of the contract hanging over them, Bofors sent its top executives to India with the one-point task of giving out the names. Nobody of any consequence received them.

Schweizer IllustrierteQ – What was your experience with the Indian investigators?

A – The only team I met in early 1990 damaged the seriousness of my work and the media investigation. I met them on a courtesy call. They were in the process of filing a letter-rogatory (LR) in Switzerland. Without an official request from Switzerland, Sweden could not intervene. They gave me a list of names to pursue including the name of Amitabh Bachchan. They also told me they did not trust you entirely because you had refused to link the Bachchans to the kickbacks. During that trip to Sweden, the Indian investigators planted the Bachchan angle on DN. The Bachchan’s took them to court in the UK and won. DN had to apologise and they said the story had come from Indian investigators. I was disappointed with the role of many senior journalists and politicians during that period. They muddied the waters.

After the LR was lodged in Switzerland, I was waiting for the official track with India and Switzerland to begin. It never did. Whenever the public prosecutor Ekblom and I heard of any Indian visits to Stockholm, we would speak to the media expressing our desire to meet them. Can you imagine a situation where no one from India met the real investigators of the gun deal? That was when we saw the extent to which everyone was compromised. Many politicians who had come to my office claiming they would move heaven and earth to get at the truth if they came to power, fell silent when they held very important positions directly linked to the deal.

Q – Any final thoughts?

A – There cannot be final thoughts on something like this. False closures of corruption bleed the system. Every day has to matter. When something like the scale and violence of Bofors happens, you begin to question your own faith as a professional and a human being. When you start losing faith, you begin to lose hope. When hope is lost, everything is lost. We cannot afford to let that happen. Maybe we will get nowhere, but silence cannot be the answer. – The Hoot, New Delhi, 24 April 2012