Bofors 'Deep Throat' removes veil
BS Reporter / New Delhi Apr 25, 2012, 00:03 IST
Twenty-five years after the scandal surrounding the Bofors gun deal had rocked Indian politics, Sten Lindstrom, the former head of Swedish police who led the investigations, said while there was “no evidence Rajiv Gandhi received a bribe in the Bofors procurement, he (Gandhi) watched the massive cover-up in India and Sweden and did nothing”.
Lindstrom also told Chitra Subramaniam-Duella, the reporter who collaborated with N Ram of The Hindu to unearth some of the key stories on corruption in the procurement of the guns about the conclusive evidence against Ottavio Quattrocchi, the Italian businessman then based in Delhi. In an interview carried by The Hoot, a Delhi-based website on the media, he said: “The evidence against Ottavio Quattrocchi was conclusive. Through a front company called AE 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.”
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As it turns out now, Lindstrom was the whistleblower, “The Swedish Deep Throat”, who leaked over 350 Bofors-related documents to Subramaniam-Duella 25 years ago. He said in the interview that Martin Ardbo, the then managing director of Bofors, was terrified about this fact becoming public. Even his marketing director, Hans Ekblom, did not know about Quattrocchi.
“Ardbo had written in his notes that the identity of N 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 Arun Nehru (then closely connected to Rajiv Gandhi) was the eminence grise but not much more,” Lindstrom told Subramaniam-Duella
Lindstrom also criticised the way the subsequent V P Singh government had investigated the case. “They (a team of investigators appointed by V P Singh) gave me a list of names to pursue, including the name of Amitabh Bachchan. During that trip to Sweden, the Indian investigators planted the Bachchan angle on Dagens Nyheter (DN, the newspaper which first came out with the story about corruption in the procurement of the Bofors guns). The Bachchans took them to court in the UK and won. D N 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.” Lindstorm said.
The Swedish investigator says the India angle came up by accident during an investigation against Bofors. “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,” Lindstrom said in The Hoot interview.
On why he leaked the documents to Chitra Subramaniam-Duella, he explains that there was disbelief and hurt when people in Sweden found some of their top politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen were involved in the scandal.
“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,” says Lindstrom.