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Friday, 27 April 2012

BOFORS The Asian Age Story 'Bofors truth points to Quattrocchi, Sonia,' screamed the banner headlines in the Asian Age of April 8 to a piece by the Swedish police officer, who was the principal investigator in the Bofors case and has followed it for


BOFORS
The Asian Age Story
'Bofors truth points to Quattrocchi, Sonia,' screamed the banner headlines in the Asian Age of April 8 to a piece by the Swedish police officer, who was the principal investigator in the Bofors case and has followed it for the past 18 years.

My name is Sten Lindstrom. I am a Swedish police officer. I was the principal investigator in the Bofors-India howitzer case. I don't know why I use the past tense — the investigation is not over. It probably will never be. And that is because people in Sweden and India want it that way. This is not the Sweden of my dreams. And I suspect there are many in India who will be able to hear what I am trying to say.

Police officers are human beings. When we take an oath of office, we pledge to serve our office to the best of our ability, to defend the principles upon which our nations are built. However difficult that task and however dangerous be our work, we are expected to soldier on. 

Almost 18 years after the Bofors case was handed over to me for investigation, I remain convinced that the truth about what happened in India and Sweden will surface one day. It always does. Whether I can help or not, whether those in India and Sweden who covered up in the Bofors case want it or not, one day we will know the truth. Whether we have the courage to face it and put in corrective measures is another matter. But truth has a nasty habit of surfacing when we least expect it to. 

As a police officer, I know that patience and perseverance are good bets. Police officers will tell you that in any investigation, very soon we get a good idea of the nature of the crime, its scope and depth. Indeed, all the pieces do not fall into place in any given sequence or pattern. Often, the wait is long. 

Over the years we get trained to learn a lot not so much by what is told, shown, and led to believe. We get a good idea of what is going on by what is denied, what is covered up and what we are not told. This can be information that is denied in the form of witnesses who do not speak, this can be access that is blocked because famous and powerful interests are threatened and this can come in the form of delays and hindrances to our mandate to continue the investigations without fear or favour. And this can even come in the form of investigations and inquiries that are designed to go nowhere. The Bofors-India investigation scored on all these counts.

The Bofors case told itself. And it will continue to do so. By making my work difficult at every twist and turn, by hiding what I was looking for, by offering me irrelevant information and by continuing, even today, to pretend to look for the culprits, the Bofors story continues to tell itself. For example, pressure from India resulted in the closing down of an investigation by the Swedish prosecutor. Pressure from India also led to the Swedish National Audit Bureau sending a blanked out version of its inquiry to India. All the relevant parts containing the critical payment details were blacked out. I had the full report and it was unreal to see politicians claim that no payments had been made on the basis of an incomplete report. There were other problems. When a team of senior executives from Bofors travelled to India to testify before the Joint Parliamentary Committee, they were prevented from doing so. Instead they met a small group of officials to whom they did not hand over any names. We were told this was because even if the Swedes had given the names, no one would have believed them. I know this did not make sense to a lot of people, but for a police officer this meant that my worst fears were probably true.

I said earlier that the truth will come out one day. I do not believe that day is far. The unravelling continues. Ottavio Quattrocchi, the Italian middleman who negotiated the political payoff through A.E. Services, must be interrogated. Sonia Gandhi must be questioned. All else is detail.

Key questions need answers. Among them:

Who introduced Ottavio Quattrocchi to Bofors officials?

What was Ottavio Quattrocchi's value proposition that led him to assure Bofors contractually that he need not be paid if the deal was not closed in their favour?

Why did Bofors pay Ottavio Quattrocchi?

What services did his company A.E. Services offer?

What are the links between Ottavio Quattrocchi and Sonia Gandhi?

Who is the Gandhi trustee lawyer that Martin Ardbo met in Geneva?

I raised these questions with Martin Ardbo, the key Bofors negotiator who told me, as he did to a few others, that the truth about the India payoffs would follow him to his grave. He was especially quiet about the last-minute contract with A.E. Services, a deal that he personally oversaw. It was clear to me that this was the political pay-off. Police officers know that the person who comes in last and walks off with a sum of money for no apparent work is a political payment made to people who have the power to close the deal. 

This amount is typically calculated only after all the major stages of negotiations and the price structure are complete. This was A.E. Service's profile and it received a single payment of 50 million Swedish kronor routed through Swiss banks. 

This money moved very fast to avoid detection. Quattrocchi was directly linked to this account. It was in connection with this very secret negotiation that Ardbo wrote of a meeting in Geneva between the front-end mover of the account (Bob Wilson) and a Gandhi trustee lawyer in Geneva. This meeting took place on July 2, 1987. Ardbo was very worried about what I knew about this deal. He was surely worried about people discovering who 'Q' was and what his links to 'R' were as he noted: 'Q' for Quattrocchi and 'R' for Rajiv Gandhi. I am being made a scapegoat to protect big people, he told us.

There were other tell-tale marks. In crimes that involve political payoffs, no one has the full story. 

Players come in, perform their job and leave. This is done to ensure that should there be a problem, there is a built-in firewall against information landing in wrong hands, i.e. they proceed on a need-to-know basis.

In the Bofors-India case too, this was true. The only person who probably has all the pieces of this jigsaw is Martin Ardbo. And he wrote his fears down on paper. I had contact with him recently and he still keeps his secrets to himself. 

In sharp contrast Indian politicians involved in the corruption issued denials, sent notes, dispatched officials and created confusion where none was necessary. Police officers will tell you that this is an old tactic to muddy the waters. When the protest is louder and longer than the accusation, you can be sure the guilty are speaking. The then Prime Minister (Rajiv Gandhi) told the Indian Parliament that neither he nor any member of his family was involved in the payoffs. That, I believe, was his first big mistake; one that gave us many clues. What he did not know then was that the Swedish government was examining a lot of documents even as he was speaking. The evidence in the documents documenting the bribes, including a last-minute payoff to Ottavio Quattrocchi's A.E. Services, Martin Ardbo's silence and Rajiv Gandhi's denials in the Indian Parliament, were all happening at the same time as far as my work was concerned. The Gandhi name and the link to Quattrocchi were now part of the investigation. This did not mean that the case was politicised. It only meant that there was a critical political dimension to this, not dissimilar to cases of this magnitude.

I am probably the only person who has met every Swedish official connected with the Bofors-India case. From its former head Martin Ardbo to former Swedish foreign minister Sten Anderson, from people in Bofors' accounts department to its board members. 

It would not be wrong to say that I am probably one of no more than a handful of people, if not the only person, to have seen all the documents pertaining to the Bofors-India case. Sonia Gandhi must be questioned.

I know what I am saying.

Text courtesy The Asian Age, taken for archival and record purposes.