Q revelations may raise a storm in India: Ex-envoy
A former Indian ambassador to Sweden says the Italian businessman was "brought into picture by Rajiv Gandhi".india Updated:
A former Indian ambassador to Sweden says that if Ottavio Quattrocchi is extradited to India to face trial, his revelations may "create a storm" as he was brought into the multi billion dollar Bofors gun deal at the behest of then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.
"Quattrocchi was brought into the picture by Rajiv Gandhi. Rajiv Gandhi discussed the Bofors gun deal with the then Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly October 24, 1985," BM Oza, India's ambassador to Sweden between 1984 and 1988 when the Bofors controversy erupted, told IANS in a telephone interview.
"When Rajiv Gandhi met Palme, he said India would give the gun deal to Bofors provided they agreed to four conditions," Oza said.
These were: first, it should match the French offer in terms of price. Second, it should offer export credit, and third it should sign a memorandum of understanding with India that it will continue to supply ammunitions and spare parts even during the event of a war.
"The fourth condition was that Bofors should change its India agent, who was Win Chadha at that time.
"Subsequently, Palme invited me for a meeting to his office. He referred to his meeting with Rajiv Gandhi in New York and told me about the new conditions," said Oza, who has detailed what he calls "incontrovertible evidence" about the complicity of Rajiv Gandhi in the Bofors scam in his book "Bofors: The Ambassador's Evidence".
"Palme asked me to help Sweden's vice minister of foreign trade with his programme as he was going to India. Accompanied by the chief of Nobel Industries Anders Carlberg and Bofors chief Martin Ardbo, he came to meet me," he said.
Later on, Bofors terminated its contract with Chadha and appointed in his place AE Services, a Britain-based company with a nominal capital of 100 pounds, which was later found by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to be a front for Quattrocchi.
Bofors and AE Services signed a six-month contract with Bofors, part of the Nobel group of companies, for the period November 1985-March 1986 with the stipulation that it will get around 1.5 percent of the $2.1 billion gun deal as commission.
"Quattrocchi had no experience or background in armament business. Yet he was paid money for pushing the gun deal. Why?" asked the former envoy, who had also served as ambassador to South Korea and Singapore.
"His calling card was his free access to top ministers and bureaucrats owing to his proximity to Rajiv Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi," Oza said.
"It's a deliberate cover-up. They don't want any investigation into this matter for obvious reasons," Oza said while referring to the attempts by the Indian government to extradite Quattrocchi from Argentina where he was detained as a fugitive following an Interpol red corner notice.
"Besides, what is he going to be tried for in India? He is required to depose in an Indian court and say whether he paid bribes out of huge commission money he was paid to important people to fix the gun deal," he said.
"If he does reveal names, it's going to create a storm in India," he stressed.
Although then Defence Secretary S.K. Bhatnagar had told representatives of the bidders of the gun deal tender that no Indian agent will be allowed, the contract signed with Bofors had no such stipulation about the role of middleman in the deal.
Finally, the contract for the supply of 410 Bofors 155 mm gun was signed on March 24, 1986 - a date that was very close to the expiry of AE Services' contract with Bofors.
When the tender for buying the howitzer guns was opened and evaluated, nearly a week before Indira Gandhi was assassinated October 31, 1984, the French Sofma gun's offer was found to be the best. It had the lowest price and also had some extra incentives which none else was willing to offer.
"What was scandalous and unethical was that Bofors was later allowed to change its bid without re-tendering the contract," said Oza.
First Published: Mar 02, 2007 16:17 IST