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Bofors dead issue in Swedish elections

Many years and several legal wranglings later, the Bofors scandal is a "completely dead issue" in Sweden's upcoming elections.

india Updated: Sep 16, 2006 17:17 IST

Many years, several legal wranglings and a half-a-dozen elections later the Bofors-India bribes' scandal is a "completely dead issue" in Sweden's lukewarm elections to be held on Sunday.

However, "Bofors' business with India thrives as never before", says the company PR chief, Christer Henneback, in Karlskroga, the Bofors' headquarters in Sweden.

Henneback told IANS: "We are in the process of moving our testing of the updated FH77B cannon up in the Kashmir Himalayas for the final stage. The testing will be carried out at the highest required altitudes, at the Kargil level and higher."

"When we carried out the first tests of the upgraded howitzer, in 2002, there were five contestants for the multi-billion dollar Indian follow-up order for the guns and ammunition. As the tests were repeated every following year, one by one the others lost the bid until this year only two are left: Bofors (BAE) and South African DENEL," said Henneback, adding: "We are confident of winning this final round".

Bofors is now owned by the British defence-systems company, BAE.

While the leaders are busy campaigning across the country, the spokespersons from the offices of the Social Democrat Party (SDP) Prime Minister Goran Persson, Foreign Minister Jan Eliasson and Justice Minister Thomas Bodstrom, had one uniform answer: "The Bofors-India business is not an issue in our agenda."

"The case in question is closed. The high court of India ruled so, and we never had the case in a Swedish court of law. We cooperated in every way possible with the Indian investigation and are completely satisfied with the decision of the Indian high court," an aide of the justice minister, who did not wish to be identified, told IANS.

Said Rolf Lindahl, the weapons' expert of the prestigious Swedish Peace and Arbitration Society (SPAS): "The Indian high court's decision appears to have put to rest the bribes' issue and there is nothing more we can do about that. However, we are not ignoring the possibility of Bofors winning the new order and we shall do our hardest to prevent that outcome."

SPAS is the organisation that has throughout the past two decades been the driving force first, exposing the 319 million Swedish Kronor (SEK) ($43.7 million) bribes allegedly paid by Bofors to various Indian politicians and middlemen in winning the eight and a half billion SEK order for the Swedish howitzers in 1987, and then fighting for transparency from Swedish government about the affair.

As the typically Swedish lukewarm electoral campaign winds up, most political observers say a majority vote for any party is yet again out of the question.

Said, Linda Rosing, chairperson of the newly formed Unika Partiet: "Goran Persson and, indeed, the SDP, is hanging by the skin of their teeth. I can see them in a very weak opposition in the next Riksdag (Swedish parliament)."

The three weakest groups, in the Swedish society, the immigrants, the jobless and the senior citizens are in a panic with the prospects of a rightist (conservative coalition) victory looming darkly on the horizon.

"If the Moderata party comes to power, it is goodbye to what shamefully little is left of the social benefits in Sweden," says Srikumar Hariharan, a veteran Indian politician and labour leader, in Swede. "The poor, the socially weak and the senior citizens will be the worst affected victims," says Hariharan, also head of the Welfare Party in Sweden.

The SDP has been in power in Sweden during the past 70 years with the exception of two three-year periods.

During the years that the infamous India-Bofors mega transaction was negotiated and signed with disastrous political results, SDP, with the late Olof Palme as chief, were in power in Sweden and the Congress with then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi at the helm in Delhi.

The case snowballed into one of India's biggest rows after breaking out in 1987, leading to Gandhi losing power in 1989 and causing a furore in Sweden.