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NEW DELHI: In a two-pronged strategy to revive the three-decade-old Bofors payoff case, the CBI on Friday filed an appeal in the Supreme Court challenging a 12-year-old Delhi HC decision to bury the case while simultaneously moving the trial court for permission to launch a fresh probe.
The CBI’s move came as a surprise as AG K K Venugopal had a few days ago advised against appeal, saying the 12-year delay could prove fatal for the agency’s case.
The CBI application in the trial court is based on recent “revelations” by Michael Hershman, head of an international private investigation firm engaged by the V P Singh government (Dec 1989 to Nov 1990) to probe the allegation that the Swedish manufacturer of Bofors guns paid Rs 64 crore as a bribe to bag India’s Rs 1,473 crore order for 400 155mm howitzers during Rajiv Gandhi’s prime ministership in 1986.
AG endorsed CBI plan after agency showed new proof
Hershman had claimed to have scooped out a Swiss account, “Mont Blanc”, in which the bribe money was deposited. Sources said the AG revised his opinion and endorsed the CBI’s plan to challenge the Delhi HC’s order after the agency showed him “new evidence” emanating from Hershman’s statement.
A few days ago, the department of personnel and training had informed Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee that the CBI was free to take a decision on whether to file an appeal.
The CBI said it was denied permission in 2005 by the then UPA government to appeal against the Delhi HC judgment discharging the Hinduja brothers — Srichand, Gopichand and Prakashchand — and told the SC of Hershman’s statement to a TV channel in October last year. Though the CBI did not appeal against the HC verdict quashing the FIR and all proceedings relating to Bofors payoffs, the efforts of advocate petitioner Ajay Agrawal, who had challenged the HC verdict in 2005, kept the case alive in the SC. Hershman had told a TV channel, “We are looking at hundreds of millions of dollars, clearly what to us was bribe money, some of it coming from the Bofors deal in Sweden.”
In its appeal, the CBI said, “Taking cognisance of Hershman’s interview to the TV channel (about Bofors payoffs), the CBI has decided to conduct further investigation in the matter.
Accordingly, an application under Section 173 (8) of the Criminal Procedure Code (seeking permission to conduct further probe) has also been moved before the trial court.”
“The application has been directed by the trial court, vide order dated February 1, to be taken up for consideration on February 17. However, since any further investigation by CBI could be hampered by the Delhi high court judgment, which has set aside all proceedings against respondents emanating from the FIR, it has become necessary for the CBI to challenge the HC order before the SC,” the agency said.