Quattrocchi is dead, Bofors legacy lives on
Though Bofors was not the first scam after Independence and was miniscule as compared to the more recent rip-offs, it received wide attention as it involved the highest in the echelons of power. Quattrocchi did pocket a part of the kickbacks, but he was essentially acting as a facilitator and a conduit for "the family" and some others. Lt Gen Harwant Singh (retd) writes.Updated: Jul 21, 2013 09:14 IST
Though Bofors was not the first scam after Independence and was miniscule as compared to the more recent rip-offs, it received wide attention as it involved the highest in the echelons of power. Quattrocchi did pocket a part of the kickbacks, but he was essentially acting as a facilitator and a conduit for "the family" and some others. A rewind to the Bofors saga is called for to understand how such cases are managed and why this legacy has continued.
The army, consequent to exhaustive trials, selected three guns (155mm) and placed these in order of preference. The French gun at number one, Swedish (Bofors) at number two and the British at three. Irrespective of the preference, the final selection depended on price and connected issues such as transfer of technology, (gun and ammunition) technical support, provision of spares, etc. Since there was some underhand deal afoot in the case of Bofors gun, the more experienced in the ministry of defence (MoD) advised that it would be safer and would not create suspicion of wrongdoing if the army was to change its order of preference: placing Bofors gun at number one. This more or less resulted in a single-vendor situation.
The minister of state for defence (MoS) had a good rapport with the then army chief and was asked to get the army to change its preference to the Bofors gun. The army was told that it would be able to finally get a medium gun, after a wait of nearly 15 years, as there was some understanding between the two governments (Indian and Swedish) and therefore, there was no possibility of any brows being raised on this deal. So the government could clinch the deal with ease. Though the army chief did suspect some mischief in this move, he went along essentially because the Bofors gun, in any case, was acceptable and that the army would finally get a gun. The joint secretary in the MoD was tasked to complete the paper work with the army.
Once the scandal broke out, four things happened: one, army, to help the government, fielded 'Shoot and Scoot' as the overriding feature which weighed heavily in favour of the Bofors gun; two, the army chief (who had since retired) recommended cancellation of the contract; three, the MoS resigned perhaps on the grounds that he was misled and used by the then PM; four, the joint secretary was posted to a foreign country and thus removed from the scene.
There followed a long and sordid drama of cover-ups in which the then defence secretary, though charge-sheeted, was moved out as governor, thus placing him beyond the long arm of the law. Some others in the PMO, Win Chaddha, Hinduja brothers, etc, were also charge-sheeted, but nothing came of these exertions. Ottavio Quattrocchi was allowed to flee from India and later his accounts with the banks in the UK etc were de-frozen. Thus the CBI, somewhat ignominiously, buried the Bofors saga. The amount of bribery was just Rs 65 crore. However, the point to note is that it was in Sweden that the story of this scandal surfaced and not in India.
Similarities with helicopter scam
While there have been innumerable mega scams since then, we need fast forward to a more recent and almost similar scandal, better known as the Augusta Westland helicopters deal for the VVIPs of India. To begin with, it needs to be noted that this scam, too, surfaced not in India but abroad, that is, Italy, where investigations revealed that money had allegedly exchanged hands. Like Bofors, here too there were a few other contenders and a single vendor situation was brought about.
Strange as it may appear, a team from the Special Protection Group (SPG) and its chief after a two-week stay in Italy came back to place the requirement of a third engine for the helicopter for the VVIPs of India. This was a new demand in the Qualitative Requirement (QR) for this helicopter in which the SPG chief was least qualified and had no role to play as the same was a technical issue to be decided by the Indian Air Force, which had worked out other related QRs. Like the defence secretary in the case of Bofors, the SPG chief was also appointed governor. So he too moved outside the reach of law.
Like Bofors, nothing is likely to come out of the Augusta Westland helicopter scandal, though the amount involved is more than five times that of Bofors. While Ottavio Quattrocchi is dead and possibly God may bless his soul, but the Bofors legacy lives on.
First Published: Jul 21, 2013 09:13 IST