CBI likely to gun for reopening Bofors case by supporting special leave petition

NEW DELHI: The long-running Bofors controversy may roil national politics again — the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is all set to support the appeal for reopening the case when the matter is heard by the Supreme Court. During Congress-led UPA’s term in office, CBI had noted that the then government was of the view there was no case for an appeal. ET has reviewed several internal CBI documents and file notings for this story. The appellant is BJP member and advocate Ajay Aggarwal who has asked for an early hearing of the special leave petition (SLP), pending since September 2005. The accused in the Bofors case were discharged by the Delhi High Court in May 2005. Bofors hit national headlines in 1987. Accusations of bribes being paid for buying the Swedish artillery gun embroiled the then prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi, and Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi, considered to be family friend of Nehru-Gandhis, who then as now run Congress. The agency took a decision in January this year to not oppose the Bofors SLP. The decision is pivotal because CBI is both a material respondent in the case and the agency that investigated the Bofors case. ET reviewed CBI’s files and file notings since 2005 on the issue which show that in 2006 the then Director of Prosecution (DoP), CBI, who’s responsible for supervising and conducting the agency’s cases, had argued against filing an appeal against the Delhi high court order. This changed in January this year, when DoP agreed with the agency’s top officers. The relevant file noting of January 13 reads: “Our stand shall be in consonance with the earlier decision to file the SLP but since no permission was given to CBI by the concerned ministry we did not go for SLP.” During the Congress-led UPA-1 government’s term, the then DoP had argued that the Delhi high court’s decision to discharge the accused was based on “correct proposition of law”, and that it was “not a fit case worth challenging” in the Supreme Court. The law ministry agreed with the DoP’s argument. The noting read that the law ministry, the department of legal affairs and the Solicitor General have “agreed with the views of the Director of Prosecution of CBI that the judgement of the High Court is based on the correct proposition of law”. In wake of this, it was suggested that the appeal filed by Aggarwal should be “opposed by the government/CBI”. Interestingly, DoP back then reported to the law ministry. In 2013, this was changed and CBI director since then has the final say on filing of cases. CBI documents show that on January 10 this year CBI brass decided to hold a high-level meeting that included DoP. This was preceded by a review of the 12-year-old Bofors file (starting 2005, post the Delhi high court discharge). It was noted that the 2006 decision by CBI to not pursue an appeal was “conditional”, meaning there was scope for review. KEY MEETING The CBI brass meeting also took cognisance of this file noting of September 12, 2006, by the then director: “Government’s decision in the matter is final. Matter may, nevertheless, be discussed with ASG Gopal Subramanium for deciding further course of action”. Another noting (September 29, 2006) by a senior SP, CBI read that the decision taken then was to “not file a reply” to Aggarwal’s SLP and to handle the case “carefully”. Internal notings clearly show that CBI was keen on filing an appeal in the apex court. On November 9, 2005 a senior CBI officer underlined the need to file an appeal “on priority”. After Aggarwal had moved the SC against the discharge of accused in Bofors case, CBI had to form a view to be conveyed to the court. With the approval of then director, CBI had intimated (in November 2005) Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) that “CBI was of the view that it is a fit case for moving the Government of India (GoI) for permission to file an SLP”. The noting further read “it was requested that the proposal of CBI for filing SLP may be considered in consultation with appropriate legal authorities and a decision thereon communicated to CBI on priority”. Showing urgency, the agency had approached an additional solicitor general (ASG) and furnished the requisite documents. But there was no movement on reopening the case when the UPA government was in power.
Source: ET

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