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:,,,,; 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

A dirty HAND cannot usher in clean governance – Hilda Raja

Sonia Gandhi's Hand‘Sonia declines to provide tax information’ was a news item that appears in the papers on the 25th Feb. (see news item below). She has cited personal freedom and security risk. One is puzzled on what security risk is there if she discloses her tax returns. Does this security risk pertain only to Mrs Sonia and not to the others who disclose their income tax returns? She has also cited personal freedom. Is personal freedom an exclusive right of Mrs Sonia. So the others who disclose their income tax returns have no personal freedom. It looks like Mrs Sonia Gandhi is afraid and is not comfortable in this area because she has much to fear. It is a known fact that she has amassed assets and wealth disproportionate to her known income.

It seems that only Mrs Sonia Gandhi has the right to privacy. Transparency is a must for all public servants and Mrs Sonia Gandhi is no private person. If all MPs can disclose their incomes and if others who are requisitioned under the RTI can oblige, what is the problem with Mrs Sonia Gandhi. How can she claim that her income tax returns are ‘private in nature’. This cannot be allowed to go without being challenged. It seems that Mrs Sonia Gandhi is not all that clean in this area. There have been time and again the alleged accusations that money-looted has flowed into her kitty. If this is to be disclaimed then it is for her to be more transparent in her money affairs. She is a public personality and has to disclaim these allegations through her readiness to be transparent.

RupeesOne cannot have two yardsticks — one for the other politicians and one for her. What is this exclusive right she is claiming? I do not know how the chief public information officer will take this forward. It seems that Mrs Sonia Gandhi and her children are enjoying unfettered rights — they are outside the overview of the ordinary law.

Similarly for the CBI to turn down the plea of Dr Swamy on probing Mrs Sonia Gandhi’s role in Bofors is also unacceptable. The claim of the CBI director that unless new evidence was presented the case cannot be reopened does not hold water. But new evidence will surface only if Mrs Sonia Gandhi is probed. Evidence will not fall from the heavens. When it has been stated by both the CBI records and the Swedish authorities that Indian agencies had failed to interrogate Mrs Sonia Gandhi, it reveals a fraud played on the people of India, There seems to be a cover-up. Why this sheltering of Mrs Sonia Gandhi against even justice. She has to be exposed and she should readily accept to be probed if she is clean.

In the disclosure of the income tax returns also Mrs Sonia should be treated as others and compelled to disclose. There seems to be something fishy and stinking. Escaping the disclosure directly points at some thing Mrs Sonia has to hide. It makes her an alleged defaulter and more doubts are created. No matter how high you are the law is above you Mrs Sonia Gandhi. And she goes about campaigning that the Congress is against corruption and wants clean governance. The test of the pudding is the eating of it. It is for Mrs Sonia Gandhi to stand this test of transparency and fight against corruption in her own affairs when it comes to income and probe on the Bofors issue. Otherwise these two will stick to her permanently –who is she afraid of? She cannot demand of others what she herself is refusing to undergo. This is exactly what I had written of the forked-tongued Congress. And what is she afraid of? A dirty HAND cannot usher in clean governance.

Times of India, Mumbai, Feb. 25, 2012

CHENNAI: Congress chief Sonia Gandhi has declined to disclose details of her income tax returns under the RTI Act, citing personal freedom and security risk. In her reply to the I-T department, she also said there was no public interest involved in disclosing such information.

Congress Hand SymbolChennai-based RTI activist V Gopalakrishnan had sought details of her I-T returns from the year 2000-2001 to 2010-2011. The assistant commissioner of income tax, New Delhi, who is also the chief public information officer (CPIO), wrote to the UPA chairperson on January 23 as per Section 11 of the RTI Act, 2005, seeking her response to the application. In her reply, Sonia said disclosure of such private information to third parties in guise of transparency in public life would amount to unwarranted invasion of the individual’s privacy. The information submitted to the I-T department by an individual was confidential and private in nature and cannot be disclosed as per Section 138 of the Income Tax Act, 1961, she said.

This is the second time that the CPIO has rejected the petition. The application was first rejected without even seeking objection from Sonia. After the appellate authority’s intervention last month on Gopalakrishnan’s plea, the CPIO sought a response from Sonia. “By not calling for an objection, the CPIO has ignored the possibility of the third-party expressing willingness for disclosure of personal I-T information,” the authority had said.

Sonia Gandhi: World’s 9th most powerful person accused of corruption – Cleo Paskal

Cleo PaskalPart of the genius of Sonia Gandhi is her ability to present herself as a helpless victim, convincing even her political rivals not to fear her as she is fatally flawed. In 1998, India was being led by BJP Prime Minister Vajpayee. When [Times of India correspondent] Nalapat spoke with him about Sonia, he was bluntly told to lay off, as, “so long as a white Christian lady is head of the Congress Party, I [Vajpayee] and my party will always be in power”. Vajpayee and his party lost power to Sonia’s Congress in 2004. – Cleo Paskal

Sonia GandhiNew Delhi: Some of India’s biggest fish are getting caught up in the country’s fast-growing wave of anti-corruption activity. In what could be India’s equivalent of a judicial jasmine revolution, previously invulnerable politicians, business icons, and pillars of the community are all nervously keeping their lawyers on speed-dial.

The anti-corruption push is an unprecedented coming together of myriad facets of Indian society. Religious leaders are concerned about the effects on morality and spiritual growth. NGOs speak of the effects on the poor. The middle class is angry about its future being stifled by a smothering blanket of day-to-day corruption. The intelligence services see corruption a clear threat to national security. And the business community, thanks to globalization, has seen how efficiently things can operate without having to constantly pay bribes or be tangled in red tape, and they want the same thing at home.

Even the Supreme Court is fed up, with Justice B. Sudarshan Reddy saying about the vast sums of Indian money being illegally hidden away in Liechtenstein Bank: We are talking about the huge money. It is a plunder of the nation. It is a pure and simple theft of the national money. We are talking about mind-boggling crime.

The scandals are bursting on to the front pages fast and thick. Suresh Kalmadi, a Congress Party politician and the former head of the corruption-plagued Commonwealth Games, was arrested April 25. According to a report by the Indian Comptroller and Auditor General, the 2G spectrum scam alone, in which 2G licenses were sold off in a manner that was, to say the least, less than transparent, cost close to $40 billion in lost revenue.

All across India, people are saying enough is enough. And suddenly the unthinkable is starting to happen. People considered above reproach, or at least untouchable, are coming under the judicial cross-hairs. 2G alone has seen charges laid against one former government minister and several captains of industry.

And the latest high profile target is one of the biggest fish of all, Congress Party President Sonia Gandhi, currently #9 on Forbes list of the World’s Most Powerful People.

Sonia Gandhi has one of the most remarkable life stories in international politics. Born Edvige Antonia Albina Maino into a family of modest means in rural Italy, she didn’t even get a chance to complete high school before heading to the UK for work. There she met Rajiv Gandhi, son of Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. She eventually married him and the young family moved in to Indira Gandhi’s New Delhi’s home, putting her literally in the heart of Indian politics.

After Indira Gandhi’s assassination in 1984, Sonia’s husband Rajiv became Prime Minister. Following Rajiv’s 1991 assassination by Tamil terrorists, there were rumors that Sonia was going to put herself forward as Prime Minister.

As she herself later said, she “could not walk past the portraits of my husband, my mother-in-law and her father and not feel that I had some responsibility to try and save the party they had given their lives to.”

Given her focus on the party, it was fitting that instead of becoming Prime Minister, she ended up as President of the powerful Congress Party. Politically, it proved to be a smart move as it gave her power without direct responsibility — while she is #9 on Forbes list of power people, the actual Prime Minister of India, Manmohan Singh, is only #18. According to Forbes, “Gandhi remains the real power behind the nuclear-tipped throne […] she has cemented her status as true heiress to the Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty.”

Her image is of a dutiful, submissive Indian wife, now widow. When her husband was alive, she would walk behind him. In public she wears saris. Although a devout Catholic, she is often photographed at Hindu temples. And like a good Indian mother, though she has decorously pulled herself out of the race for prime minister, she is happy to encourage her son, Rahul, to take the job.

However there have been growing, persistent murmurs about questionable business deals and inexplicable exponential jumps in the personal wealth of her and her family.

M.D. NalapatThe allegations came out in the open in 1995 when M. D. Nalapat, then Resident Editor (Delhi) of the world’s largest English-language newspaper, the Times of India, began a groundbreaking series of articles about Sonia.

The articles made the controversial (at the time) claim that the public docility was just a ploy, and that Sonia actually had serious political ambitions (later confirmed by her role in Congress). Also, crucially, the series said that her desire for power wasn’t simply altruistic and that the wealth not only of her, but of her Italian relatives, rose stratospherically after Rajiv Gandhi became Prime Minister in 1984.

Nalapat’s articles could not be ignored as he was one of India’s most respected journalists and had, throughout his career, taken on corrupt politicians, social inequity and institutionalized discrimination.

This however was a ‘topic too far’. While the facts in the article were never refuted, Nalapat was forced out of journalism in 1998 and moved into academics.

Next came public questions from another highly reputed source, Sten Lindstrom, Sweden’s special prosecutor investigating the pay-offs associated with the sale of weapons by Bofors to the government of India. His investigation showed that a close friend of Sonia’s, Ottavio Quattrocchi, has received kickbacks in the millions.

Quattrocchi & Sonia GandhiIn 1998 Lindstrom gave an interview in which he said: The Gandhis, particularly now Sonia, should explain how Quattrocchi-owned companies got such fat sums as payoffs from the Bofors deal. After all, what is the connection of Sonia and the Gandhi family to Quattrocchi? Who introduced Quattrocchi and his AE Services to Bofors? At least one thing is certainly known now. A part of the payoffs definitely went to Quattrocchi. […] the papers all pointed to the Gandhi family.

Not only have the questions not been answered by Sonia, but in spite of substantial evidence against him, Quattrocchi has managed to evade prosecution in India, and has even had his kickback funds unfrozen from overseas accounts.

Part of the genius of Sonia Gandhi is her ability to present herself as a helpless victim, convincing even her political rivals not to fear her as she is fatally flawed. In 1998, India was being led by BJP Prime Minister Vajpayee. When Nalapat spoke with him about Sonia, he was bluntly told to lay off, as, “so long as a white Christian lady is head of the Congress Party, I [Vajpayee] and my party will always be in power”. Vajpayee and his party lost power to Sonia’s Congress in 2004.

But the most serious threat to Sonia — and, as she is at the apex of the Congress Party, and so to Congress itself — is now lying on the desk of #18, the Prime Minister of India.

Subramanian SwamyOn April 15, former Law and Justice Minister and Harvard Professor Dr. Subramanian Swamy asked Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for leave to lay corruption charges against Sonia Gandhi. In a meticulously researched 200+ page submission Dr Swamy alleges Sonia Gandhi has been involved in corruption in India since 1972 and personally benefited from the Bofors scam (1986), has held billions in non-Indian bank accounts since at least 1991, illegally profited from the Iraqi oil-for-food deals (2002), and even accessed KGB payoffs during the Cold War.

The Prime Minister has three months to decide whether or not to grant sanction to prosecute. If he doesn’t, Dr. Swamy can take the case directly to the Supreme Court, which under Chief Justice Kapadia is showing a definite proclivity towards facilitating corruption cases.

While, so far, the corruption cases in India have caught up some pretty big fish, if charges are laid against Sonia Gandhi, it won’t just be part of a wave, it will be a sea change.

Sonia Gandhi is not just an individual, she is the steely core of a pillar of Indian politics. If she crumbles, it will shake the foundations of the venerable Congress Party, and possibly leave a gaping hole in the political scene. Meanwhile, a range of polarizing and regional parties are ready to rush in and stake their claim. Given the growing importance of India in our heavily globalized world, this is not just an Indian story, this is one all should be following very closely indeed. – Huffington Post, April 25, 2011

Robert Vadra: Proxy Tycoon? (with video) – Sandhya Jain

Sandhya JainRobert Vadra’s entry into the real estate business has been accompanied by a partnership with the country’s largest realty firm, DLF Ltd, a staggering feat by any standards (The Economic Times, 14 March 2011). Hitherto known for the export of faux jewellery and handicrafts, the 42-year-old Vadra quietly switched lanes in 2008, buying up land in Haryana and Rajasthan, a 50% stake in a leading business hotel in Delhi, and attempting to enter the business of chartering aircraft, a quantum jump that certainly merits an explanation.” – Sandhya Jain

Manmohan SinghFallout of the dwindling Dyarchy

Amidst the stench of corruption and malfeasance rising from the second political innings of the UPA coalition headed by Manmohan Singh but presided over by the Italian-born Sonia Gandhi comes a startling revelation – the unremarkable Robert Vadra, small time exporter of artificial jewellery and son-in-law of the Signora, is fast emerging as a virtual tycoon, with fingers in many industrial pies.

The revelations follow a public uproar over the outrageous loot of the exchequer in the Commonwealth Games and 2G Spectrum allotment scams, to mention only the most notorious. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his immediate family; circle of relations on both his own and his wife’s side; and personal friends, are nowhere indicted in any scandal.

The Gandhi family has been tainted with corruption and nepotism for at least four decades. Recently, the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal subtly revived the Bofors ghost by declaring that the late Win Chaddha had taken a legally banned commission on the Bofors gun deal, and hence owed the State a handsome sum as income tax dues! So while the Signora’s well-oiled protection machinery ensured that her countryman Ottavio Quattrocchi got away with the loot and that the Hinduja brothers did not suffer for their role in the affair, the ITAT decision ensured that the illegal gratification was recorded officially in the country’s legal history. It is a lesson in the limits of proxy rule.

And now, just a few weeks down the line, comes the news that Priyanka Gandhi’s fitness freak polo playing spouse is making strides in the real estate business, a sector riddled with nepotism and scandal as exemplified by the Adarsh housing scam in Maharashtra, which forced Ms Sonia Gandhi to urge Congress chief ministers to give up their discretionary powers in this area.

It is pertinent that facts personally embarrassing to the Gandhi family are emerging on the heels of strong nudges to Dr Manmohan Singh to step down so that Rahul Gandhi, reputedly the born-to-be ruler of India, could receive on-the-job training and redeem his otherwise inglorious existence. But the Prime Minister is no pushover and during a recent interaction with select senior journalists over the Spectrum Scam, explicitly stated he had no intention of resigning (read being driven out) as he had yet to go the metaphorical miles before he could consider an exit. In other words, he would go when the government went, and not before.

That these signals have been understood can be gauged from the fact that Sonia loyalists directly and indirectly sharpened their attack on the Prime Minister immediately thereafter. Senior ministers have urged journalists to target the Prime Minister and his office for the sins of omission and commission in the Spectrum scandal. Although the exposé of the Niira Radia tapes revealed that some journalists had networked with Congress leaders close to Sonia Gandhi to get the Telecom portfolio for Andimuthu Raja once again in the UPA-II – and that Singh had no say in the cabinet formation – senior ministers strove to implicate the Prime Minister enough to make him quit in disgust while publicly mouthing platitudes in his defence. It was schizophrenia at its best.

Dr Manmohan Singh is made of sterner stuff. Like the now forgotten Yuri Andropov who collected a handful of aides to erode the hated Soviet citadel from within, the Sardar too seems to have a set of unknown loyalists. His political ‘guru’ P.V. Narasimha Rao – no one even knew they were acquainted with each other until Manmohan Singh was anointed Union Finance Minister! – had secret Hindu sympathies that permitted the unhindered removal of the Babri structure in 1992 and so tilted the scales against the Congress in Uttar Pradesh that the party could not return to power for over a decade at the Centre, and that too only in coalition.

No one knows yet if Manmohan Singh has a covert personal or political agenda. But it is near certain that he was legitimately offended, if not enraged, at being asked at the very height of his stature as leader of a rising economic power who was being courted as a statesman in the international area, to step down in favour of the Amethi non-entity, who cannot even speak cogently on any issue of national concern and tends to disappear when things get politically controversial.

Robert VadraSun shines over Robert Vadra

Whispers about the financial rise and rise of Robert Vadra have been doing the rounds for some years, escalating during the Commonwealth Games, but there was no independent corroboration of the same. This growing eminence is obviously a concerted decision of the Gandhi family and its courtiers, but could not have taken place without the knowledge of Dr Manmohan Singh and many others in industry and government. Thus, as in the Radia tapes episode, there are many sources from which the news could have leaked and it would be impossible to impute motives or fix responsibility. What is pertinent is the timing – it coincides with concerted attacks on the Prime Minister.

Robert Vadra’s entry into the real estate business has been accompanied by a partnership with the country’s largest realty firm, DLF Ltd, a staggering feat by any standards (The Economic Times, 14 March 2011). Hitherto known for the export of faux jewellery and handicrafts, the 42-year-old Vadra quietly switched lanes in 2008, buying up land in Haryana and Rajasthan, a 50% stake in a leading business hotel in Delhi, and attempting to enter the business of chartering aircraft, a quantum jump that certainly merits an explanation.

Vadra seems to have floated a number of companies, some of which have received unsecured loans from the DLF group companies, including the Bombay Stock Exchange-listed flagship DLF Ltd. Readers may recall that during investigations into the Spectrum Scam, the CBI found that a number of non-entity (shell) companies had received and passed on unsecured loans that ended up in Kalaignar TV! It believes these were bribes received against the sale of spectrum at throwaway prices, and that the loans would ultimately be cancelled as ‘bad debt’ and the slate wiped clean. Thus, Vadra’s receipt of unsecured loans certainly merits a probe.

Sky Light Hospitality Pvt. Ltd. (wholly owned by Vadra and his mother Maureen Vadra) is a partner, along with DLF Hotel Holdings and others, in a partnership firm that owns the posh Hilton Garden Inn in Saket.

DLF’s generous loans to Vadra companies, some without collateral, include:

– As on March 2009, Sky Light Hospitality had received unsecured loans amounting to Rs 25 crore from DLF Ltd.

– As on March 2010, only Rs 10 crore remained. It was unclear from the statement of accounts if the rest was paid back or written off.

– Sky Light Hospitality in turn loaned money to other Vadra-owned companies such as Blue Breeze Trading Pvt. Ltd, North India IT Parks Pvt. Ltd, Real Earth Estates Pvt. Ltd and Sky Light Realty Pvt. Ltd.


Knowledge of such unprecedented asset escalation naturally took the polity by surprise, though the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party tried to play down the issue owing to the covert proximity of some top leaders with the Congress and Sonia Gandhi in particular. A pathetic argument was forwarded that the party should not target the “family members” of the Congress leadership, an euphemism for Sonia Gandhi, though such sensitivity was not extended to the India-born M. Karunanidhi, and anyway has no place in public life.

For the CPI-M, however, Robert Vadra’s successful entrepreneurship has come as a timely boon, and the party hopes to extract full mileage from the same during the forthcoming assembly elections in West Bengal and Kerala. Sitaram Yechury emphasized that there was a strong case for an independent inquiry into Vadra’s activities.

Rahul Gandhi Ra(h)ul (da) Vinci

Any investigation into Robert Vadra’s entrepreneurial prominence must legitimately cover the coy attempts of his brother-in-law Rahul Gandhi to become a business magnate. Media reports about the Amethi MP are opaque and have been noted perfunctorily only because Gandhi was compelled to reveal the same in his affidavit before the Election Commission.

In 2002, Rahul Gandhi launched a consultancy engineering firm, Backops Services Private Limited, with an authorized share capital of Rs 25 lakhs, divided into 25,000 equity shares of Rs 100 each. Gandhi himself held 83 per cent shares in the firm; the other shareholders were close family friend and aide Manoj Muttu; Anil Thakur, son of Madhya Pradesh Governor Rameshwar Thakur; and Delhi resident Ranvir Sinha.

Gandhi holds a mysterious M. Phil degree in Development Studies from Cambridge University, UK, though nobody knows when and where he completed his graduate and post-graduate studies. To this day not a single person has surfaced anywhere in the world to say that Raul Vinci (his disguise) was his/her classmate at x y or z college. The then Cambridge Master Amartya Sen defended the degree while stoutly declining to give details. However, in the wake of the Saif Gaddafi Ph.D. degree scam, it may be safe to assume that a friendly London establishment “took care of” the academic credentials of the wanna be PM-aspirant.

Similarly Raul Vinci is supposed to have done a stint as financial consultant in London. No colleague has stepped forward to say where, and how good or mediocre he was at the job.

What now merits investigation without delay – and the Supreme Court must urgently look into the same – is how Rahul Gandhi took on the identity of Raul Vinci. The specious plea that this was done for security reasons will not wash: Benazir Bhutto’s son Bilawal studies abroad under his own name, as do the scions of other eminent families.

– So how did Rahul Gandhi get the Raul Vinci identity?

– Was he given a Raul Vinci passport by the Indian passport office?

– If so, what are the names of the alleged parents of Raul Vinci and what is the place of residence given on the document?

– Or was a passport issued by a foreign country? Does this mean that Rahul Gandhi enjoys dual citizenship of some European country, which is illegal in Indian law?

– Where is that passport now and how often and where has Rahul Gandhi travelled on it?

On 21 March 2011, The Indian Express reported that some time prior to the 2009 elections, Rahul gave up his business venture, Backops Services Private Limited, to devote himself to full-time politics. It was by all accounts a modest venture, nothing compared to the phenomenal ascent of Robert Vadra. What is pertinent, however, is the suspicious overlap in Rahul Gandhi’s retreat from business and Vadra’s big time leap into the arena.

Manmohan Singh & Sonia-G seeking votes.Wikileaks: Sardar – Signora Dyarchy in distress

The Wikileaks revelations regarding American interest and overseeing of the 2008 cash-for-vote scam due to the Indo-US nuclear deal could not have come at a worse time for Sonia Gandhi, who once stated that the deal was very close to her heart, but did not say why.

On 18 March 2011, Dr Manmohan Singh told Parliament he did not authorise anyone to purchase any votes: “I am not aware of any purchase of votes. Certainly, I am not involved in any such things.” One can readily believe that; it is totally out of sync with the known character of Dr Singh.

More pertinently, all the alleged fixers in the 22 July 2008 cash-for-votes episode are closely aligned with Sonia Gandhi and her family, which lends credence to the view that the nuclear deal was one of her ‘pet projects’ for unknown reasons. To recap the Wiki revelations briefly:

– Gandhi family loyalist Satish Sharma’s aide Nachiketa Kapur told a US Embassy official that the four RLD MPs [actually three] were paid Rs 10 crores each to vote for UPA-1. [Ajit Singh denied the charges and said his party voted against the government in the no-confidence motion].

– Kapur allegedly showed the US Embassy employee “two chests containing cash” in July 2008 [to assure him that the nuclear deal would go through] and said Rs 50-60 crores was ready for use as “pay-offs” to win the support of some MPs ahead of crucial vote of confidence following Left withdrawal of support on account of the Indo-US nuke deal.

– Satish Sharma reportedly told the US Political Counsellor that “PM Singh and others were trying to work on the Akali Dal (8 votes) through NRI businessman Sant Singh Chatwal and others, but unfortunately it did not work out” [robustly denied by Chatwal].

– Industrialist Mukesh Ambani offered to help secure Shiv Sena’s support.

– Congress chief Sonia Gandhi might meet Jharkhand Mukti Morcha MPs.

– Sharma told US embassy political counselor that Rahul Gandhi was speaking to National Conference’s Omar Abdullah.

– A Congress insider reported that then commerce minister Kamal Nath was “also helping to spread largesse”.

– The cables talk of the Left’s troubles with Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee’s refusal to quit and Ajit Singh’s success in getting Lucknow’s Amausi airport renamed after his late father Charan Singh.

– Satish Sharma quoted to say he was trying to sow divisions in BJP by working on former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s son-in-law Ranjan Bhattacharya.

– Prakash Karat-Sitaram Yechury fault lines; Yechury admitted it was a mistake to have listed Speaker Chatterjee as a CPM MP in a letter withdrawing support, submitted to the President on July 8. A large group of CPM MPs unhappy at Karat for his “failed” strategy.

– Regarding Left parties, cables say though defections were a possibility, communist party discipline remained strong and members were unlikely to vote with the government.


It thus transpires that the landmark achievement of the UPA in its first innings – the Indo-US Nuclear Deal – was the agenda of Sonia Gandhi, and she put her entire political weight behind it. Dr Manmohan Singh owned it as a good lieutenant and because he was himself pro-America, but he did not have either the money or the manipulative skills to push it through as happened on 22 July 2008.

L.K. AdvaniJoe LiebermanSonia Gandhi’s covert patronage of the deal also explains why CNN-IBN ditched the BJP and refused to air the secret tapes of the behind-the-scenes horse-trading as promised on 22 July 2008. Of course this does not explain why Mr L.K. Advani – who had previously made a veiled pledge to Senator  regarding the deal – chose CNN-IBN to make the recording in the first place, when the party had its own equipment and talent to make the recordings and had done so successfully in another case.

Anyway, it is now evident that the undeserved elevation of the inane Rahul Gandhi has sundered the Sonia Gandhi – Manmohan Singh Dyarchy. Had it not been for an obliging BJP, the regime would have fallen by now.

This may still happen, as Sonia Gandhi may find it cheaper to cut her losses by sinking the government rather than risk the mild-faced Sardar using the state machinery to put the family in the dock, compelling the Supreme Court to order an investigation à la Hasan Ali.

If the government falls out of its own inner contradictions, the BJP will find itself in an unenviable position.

» Sandhya Jain is the editor of….