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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Identity of whistleblower 'Swedish Deep Throat' - remembering Bofors scandal

25 years is a long period and today newsreports are agog with the revelation of identity of the whistle blower.  Lindstrom appears to be a very common Swedish surname but the man ‘Sten Lindstrom’ is special.  The is special !

Bofors threatened to blow the horizon but never really did – it all began with revelations on Swedish State radio.  A source concealed as ‘Swedish Deep throat’ reportedly leaked over 350 documents to a journalist then with The Hindu – and those included payment instructions to banks, hand written notes, diary and more.  The man is quoted as saying that it was an accident.  They were conducting several search and seize operations in the premises of Bofors and their executives. In the pile were one set of documents to Swiss banks with instructions that the name of the recipient should be blocked out. Bofors was unable to explain and then we found more and more documents leading to India.  The man is -  Sten Lindstrom  who as  the former head of Swedish police  led the investigations into the Bofors-India gun deal.

155 mm Howitzer was there everyday on the captions of news ! – it was Field Howitzer 77 FH77 – a Swedish 155 mm howitzer, developed and manufactured by Bofors. A howitzer is a type of artillery piece characterized by a relatively short barrel and the use of comparatively small propellant charges to propel projectiles at relatively high trajectories, with a steep angle of descent. The middleman associated with the scandal was Ottavio Quattrocchi, an Italian businessman who represented the petrochemicals firm Snamprogetti. Quattrocchi was reportedly close to the family of Gandhi and emerged as a powerful broker in the 1980s between big businesses and the Indian government. Years later Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated on May 21, 1991  and things were never the same after those revelation.

Though it erupted to be a major corruption scandal in the history of India, the subsequent Govts never solidified anything as the Nation got a feeling that things were never pursued in right earnest.  VP Singh assumed power on the issue announcing his desire to book those involved, but the Nation now knows how that never materialized.   With the opposition screaming, about 25 years ago,  K.C. Pant rose to reply to a six hour debate on the unending Bofors saga in the Lok Sabha, no one had expected the mild-mannered defence minister to spring a surprise. But in a move that caught the Opposition flat-footed, Pant placed on the table of the House the entire set of 26 letters exchanged between the Government of India, Bofors and the Swedish Government since mid-April.  That perhaps was indicative of the confidence the rulers had in tiding over the crisis.   As one Q would keep nagging – money was made but who made money in the Rs 1,700 crore Bofors gun deal signed in March 1986 – perhaps would remain unanswered or the real identity would never be known !!

The corruption also saw the formation of Joint Parliamentary Committee constituted by Indian parliament.  The committee, headed by B Shankaranand, held 50 sittings and gave its report on April 26, 1988. Opposition parties boycotted the committee on the ground that it was packed with Congress members. The JPC report was tabled in Parliament, but it was rejected by the Opposition.

The main person spoken of was the Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi who was being sought until early 2009 in India for criminal charges for acting as a conduit for bribes in the Bofors scandal. A decade later CBI named him in chargesheet also.   Later Interpol revealed two bank accounts of his containing large savings.  Years later the  frozen bank accounts were unexpectedly released by India's law ministry.  In Feb 2007, Ottavio Quattrocchi was detained in Argentina on the basis of the Interpol warrant; India lost the case for his extradition in June 2007, the judge remarking that "India did not even present proper legal  documents and embarrassingly, India was asked to pay Ottavio's legal expenses. His connection and proximity to high family ensured that he was out of the net !!

That way the identity of the whilstle blower after 25 years would not be of much value.  Today First Post quotes Subramaniam Swamy as saying that Lindstrom, had sought permission from the Indian Government to question Congress President Sonia Gandhi but was not allowed to. 

Naturally the later bigger scandals have ensured safe burial of the Bofors case.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar.

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