The Bofors Scandal
Introductionscroll to contents
During the early 1980s, American defence contracts with Pakistan prompted India's military to urgently demand its own upgrades, including a 155mm howitzer system to counter Pakistan’s newly acquired fleet of F-16 fighters. A Negotiating Committee was established under then Defence Secretary S.K. Bhatnagar which, in November 1985, shortlisted Swedish manufacturer AB Bofors and France’s Sofma for the best choice of howitzer. Although Sofma’s product excelled in field tests, Bofors was selected in March, 1986.
India’s then Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, and his Swedish counterpart, Olof Palme, discussed the Bofors contract throughout 1985. Palme wanted to secure the contract for Bofors, a company that desperately needed the business if it was to avoid substantial layoffs that would be politically costly for his Swedish Social Democratic Party led-government. Gandhi, on the other hand, insisted on the exclusion of intermediaries and agents as a need for the agreement in order to comply with the policy of the Government of India that no commissions or agency fees should be paid in regard to contracts obtained from India. In January 1986, Palme met Gandhi in New Delhi to finalise the contract. Palme’s efforts paid off, as Bofors received the $1.4 billion order of 410 Bofors howitzers in March, the largest arms deal in Swedish history. The final stages of decision-making were unusually rushed; barely two days passed from the recommendation of Bhatnagar’s committee in favour of Bofors and Rajiv Gandhi’s signature.
The scandal broke with a 1987 broadcast by Swedish radio programme, ‘Dagens Eko’. Based on the testimony of the former Bofors employee turned whistleblower, Ingvar Bratt, it alleged that Bofors bribed “top Indian politicians” to clinch the howitzer deal. From this point onwards, Bofors and the governments of Sweden and India embarked on a campaign to suppress the affair and limit the damage. Almost all investigations were obstructed and delayed for decades.
To make matters worse, Palme was assassinated barely a month prior to the deal’s completion in a yet-unexplained killing. In 1991, Gandhi was also assassinated, this time at the hands of the Sri Lankan Tamil separatist organisation, Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
Investigations persisted regardless - due to an upswing in investigative journalism in India and Sweden - and the Bofors Scandal remains a very relevant topic in Indian politics. It also serves as an emblematic illustration of how a government with much to conceal might thwart investigations into corruption in the arms trade.
Case detailsscroll to contents
Dramatis Personaescroll to contents
Bofors AB: Swedish arms manufacturer known for the production of artillery. It has gone through various mergers and acquisitions and is now part-owned by BAE Systems becoming BAE Systems Bofors AB.
Svenska Inc: A company registered in Panama, Svenska is one of the intermediary companies paid by Bofors. Win Chadha was its ultimate beneficiary.
Anatronic General Corporation: A company registered in India, Anatronic is one of the intermediary companies paid by Bofors. Win Chadha was its ultimate beneficiary.
AE Services Limited: A company registered in the UK, AE is one of the intermediary companies paid by Bofors. Its ultimate beneficiary was Ottavio Quattrocchi.
Moineao S.A./Pitco/Moresco: Once believed to be one of the intermediary companies allegedly paid by Bofors. Moineao S.A, often referred to by the code-names Pitco and Moresco, was revealed to have never existed.
McIntyre Corporation: A company registered in Panama, McIntyre was the true recipient of the funds paid to ‘Moineao S.A./Pitco/Moresco’. Its ultimate beneficiary was Prakash Hinduja.
Martin Karl Ardbo: Bofors AB CEO who played a key role in the Bofors deal. His diary and the key evidence contained within it was leaked to the press by Sten Lindstöm. He died on July 29th, 2004 in Sweden of cancer, aged 77.
Olof Palme: Two-time Prime Minister of Sweden (1969-1976 and 1982-1986). Key figure in pushing the deal. He died on February 28th, 1986 by assassination, aged 59.
Rajiv Gandhi: Prime Minister of India (1984-1989). Key figure in negotiating the deal. He died on May 21st, 1991 by assassination, aged 46.
Sonia Gandhi: President of the Indian National Congress (1998 to 2017 and 2019-present), and wife of Rajiv Gandhi. She has a huge influence on the Indian political elections and electorate.
Ottavio Quattrocchi: Italian businessman. Was a close friend of Rajiv's wife, Sonia Gandhi. Quattrocchi's financier son, Massimo Quattrocchi, grew up with Sonia Gandhi's children, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Vadra. Quattrocchi was an alleged conduit for bribes in the Bofors scandal. He died on July 13th, 2013 in Italy, aged 74.
Washeshar Nath Chadha, alias Win Chadha: Indian businessman and former bofors agent. Chadha was an alleged conduit for bribes in relation to the deal. He died on October 24th, 2001 of a cardiac arrest at his residence in New Delhi, aged 77.
The Hinduja Brothers (Shrichand, Gopichand and Prakash Hinduja): The trio are leading owners of Hinduja Group, an Anglo-Indian, transnational conglomerate with bases in London, Mumbai, and Geneva. They have denied any involvement in the Bofors affair despite being linked to bank accounts involved in the transfer of payments. They top the UK Rich List in 2022 with a combined family wealth of £28.5 billion.
Sharad Kumar Bhatnagar, shortened to S.K. Bhatnagar: Indian Defence Secretary (1984-1988). Bhatnagar is accused of misusing his position to push the deal through.
Amitabh Bachchan: Indian actor, former politician, and Lok Sabha chair who was a family friend of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi. Accused of complicity in the Bofors scandal, Bachchan was later proved innocent.
Michael Hershman: He was a secret investigator that V. P. Singh had deployed when he was in the position of Finance Minister (1984-1987). He was the first to discover suspicious payments that appeared to be connected to the Bofors deal.
Ingvar Bratt: Key whistleblower who played an important role in the prosecution against Bofors.
Sten Lindström: Former head of Swedish police. Led investigations into the deal and later turned whistleblower.
Summary of Corruption Allegationsscroll to contents
After decades of official inquiries, backed by investigative journalism and whistleblowers, it can be concluded that Bofors paid illegal commissions to agents through networks of companies and secret bank accounts situated in tax havens, such as Panama, Guernsey, and Switzerland. Many have alleged that the money was intended as bribes to Indian officials, but these allegations have yet to be proven.
Many of these payments are tied to the inflation of administrative services, consultancy fees, termination contracts, and other similar services. High fees for vaguely defined, minor services is considered a common method to hide corruption in the defence industry.
The payments can be grouped into three networks:
The first involves SEK 195 million (approximately $30 million USD) channelled through the companies Anatronic General Company Private Ltd. and Svenska Inc. to Win Chadha, Bofors’ long-time agent in India.
Bofors had used this network for years to mask the true scale of commissions being paid to Win Chadha. Through Anatronic, registered in India, Win Chadha was ostensibly Bofors’ sole representative in India. However, commission was also paid to Svenska, a front company registered in Panama in February 1978. In response to inquiries by Swedish authorities, Bofors admitted only that its beneficiary was an Indian national who had represented Bofors for 10-15 years. This was unlikely to be anyone other than Win Chadha.
According to a 2011 Indian Income Tax Tribunal, the purpose of this company was to recoup commissions Win Chadha could not legally obtain through Anatronic. Bearing in mind that the industry standard commission expected by middlemen in Indian defence deals was 6%, Indian tax authorities note that:
In 1978, Anatronic received 2% commission, while Svenska was given 4%. In 1984, Anatronic’s commission was reduced to 0.25%, while Svenska’s was raised to 5.75%. Thereafter, Anatronic’s commission was again reduced to a monthly stipend of SEK 100 thousand, along with first class flights to Sweden and a car. Despite the law banning middlemen, Svenska continued to receive regular payments disguised as ‘termination’ and ‘consultancy’ fees. These were dependent on the value of the Howitzer sale – 3.2% and 2.24% respectively – indicating that they were illegal commissions and potential bribes.
Svenska’s registration in Panama and the considerably higher fees afforded to it suggests that this arrangement may have been originally designed for taxation purposes. However, by 1984, it was likely used to circumvent the ban on middlemen and maintain the high level of commissions Chadha expected prior to the ban.
The monthly ‘stipends’ paid through Anatronic also raised suspicion. In July 1987, Win Chadha complained to investigators that Bofors had suspended the payments following negative publicity. By that time, Bofors had likely paid Chadha almost SEK 1.8 million (approximately $263 thousand USD), a considerable fee for supposed “administrative services”.
The second network allowed Bofors to transfer US $7.3 million to Ottavio Quattrocchi, an Italian businessman with no experience in the arms trade. Both Quattrocchi and his wife, Maria, were close to Rajiv Gandhi and his wife, Sonia Gandhi.
This time, Bofors had a prior arrangement with a UK-registered company called A.E. Services entitling it to 3% in commission on sales in India. The company was not directly affiliated with Quattrocchi; it was owned by a Holding Company, CIAOU ANSTALTVADUZ, located in Liechtenstein. The Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) report describes how “in case a manufacturer of defence equipment/supplier is on the lookout for a market for his product, M/s. CIAOU helps ‘to open the door’ to such markets”. As with the Anatronic-Svenska network, Bofors transferred payments to A.E. Services under the guise of a bogus ‘termination fee’. In this case, the payment matched exactly 3% of the advance payment paid by India to Bofors for the howitzers. It was also revealed that the ‘termination fee’ would only be paid if India and Bofors reached a deal by March 31, 1986, thereby offering an explanation for the Indian government’s rush to complete the deal by March 24th. The money was then forwarded across various bank accounts in Switzerland and Guernsey held by offshore companies, before being dispersed. At least two of the offshore companies, Colbar Investments Limited Inc., registered in Panama, and Wetelsen Overseas S.A., registered in Guernsey, belonged to Ottavio and Maria Quattrocchi. Together, their connection to the Gandhis and receipt of the payments is evidence that they were instrumental in laundering illegal commissions and possible bribe money. In a Swiss affidavit on December 10th, 1992, the director of A.E. Services, Miles Stott, testified that it was in fact Quattrocchi who approached him and orchestrated the original consultancy contract with Bofors, at the behest of Rajiv Gandhi.
The final known network was the one Bofors went the greatest lengths to hide. Swiss records detail nine payments totalling US $11.8 million to three different bank accounts under the name of ‘McIntyre Corporation’, registered on February 14th, 1986 in Panama - a month before the India-Bofors deal was finalised. These were US $1.7 million in Credit Suisse Bank under the code name, ‘Mont Blanc’, US $5.4 million in Hanover Manufacturers Trust under the code name, ‘Tulip’, and US $4.6 million in Swiss Bank Corporation under the code name, ‘Lotus’.
Though ostensibly registered under other names, McIntyre Corporation is a front for one of the Hinduja Brothers, Prakash P. Hinduja. Strangely, the Hindujas did not deny being the company’s true owners and neither them nor Bofors denied the existence of payments from Bofors to Mcintyre. Once again, Bofors stuck to their usual explanation. Having been forced to remove middlemen from their dealings in India, they had to cancel their contract with McIntyre and thus paid a ‘termination fee’. This time, they also insisted that the payments had nothing to do with India’s howitzer deal.
Investigations into McIntyre Corporation and the role of the Hindujas suffered from a long-running confusion over which company owned the three coded Swiss bank accounts. Investigators for the JPC believed it to be a Swiss company either called Moineao or Moresco, but codenamed ‘Pitco’. They even had an address: 30, Rue du Rhône, Geneva. However, they found nothing there, nor did they find any company by the name of Moineao, Moresco, or Pitco elsewhere in Switzerland. None of the relevant banks had any record of these names or of the bankers said to be aware of the payments. Eventually, the JPC concluded that the company and its beneficiary were a mystery and that the payments were unrelated to the Bofors-India deal.
A trove of Swiss documents handed to the Indian Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in 1997 and 1999 revealed the dupe: the Hindujas’ Panamanian McIntyre Corporation owned the accounts, not Moineao or Moresco, which never existed. Other documents, leaked to the newspaper The Hindu by Sven Linström, the former Swedish police chief who investigated the scandal, explain ‘Pitco’ as an alias once used for Sangam Ltd, another Hinduja company registered in the UK. The documents show that Sangam Ltd had previously acted as a consultant for Bofors, as evidenced by applications by Bofors to make payments to it in 1982. But the agreement was handed over to another alias, ‘Moresco’ (in reality, likely McIntyre), in 1984. Incredibly, the JPC never once questioned the validity of Moresco, Moineao, or Pitco, considering that it was Bofors itself that furnished the names; this was, after all, a company whose incessant use of codenames was laid bare in the leaked diaries of its former executive, Martin Ardbo.
This neat trick of Bofors’ delayed the investigation by over a decade, ample time for the illicit payments to be transferred away. The reason for Bofors’ efforts and the JPC’s unwillingness to investigate irregularities has since been attributed to political pressure; indeed, the Hindujas were powerful and politically well-connected - far more so than either Win Chadha or Quattrocchi.
Timelinescroll to contents
- Nov 1984
New Indian government under Rajiv Gandhi took office, insisting that defence contracts would no longer be transacted with the use of middlemen.
- 15 Nov 1985
Despite Indian’s insistence not to appoint middlemen in the deal. Bofors signed on with AE Services, granting A.E. a 3% commission if it could win the weapons contract by 31 March, 1986. This was at the behest of Ottavio Quattrocchi, a Certified Chartered Accountant with no experience of defence sales.
- Jan 1986
It was agreed that a 3.2% commission of the Bofors contract was to be paid to Svenska.
- 28 Feb 1986
Prime Minister Olaf Palme was assassinated as he and his wife, Lisbeth left a Stockholm movie theatre.
- 24 Mar 1986
The Indian government and Swedish arms company AB Bofors reach an agreement. The contract was signed by S.K. Bhatnagar for and on behalf of the Govt. of India, by Martin Ardbo, Bofors’ President, and Anders G. Cariberg, president and Chief Executive Officer of Nobel Industries.
- 16 Apr 1987
Swedish Radio station Dagens Eko claims bribes were paid to top Indian politicians and defence officials to secure the deal. The radio release was followed by Swedish and Indian newspapers claiming bribes were paid out by way of secret accounts in a Swiss Bank, and in total Bofors had paid some 200 million Krona for the services of these agents.
- May 1987
As Win Chadha’s name cropped up in the press, he fled from India to New York. The Indian authorities requested the US extradite Win Chadha for questioning. He managed to obtain a doctor's note showing that he had high blood pressure and therefore could not travel. He instead emigrated almost immediately by plane from the US to Dubai.
V.P. Singh became suspicious after Michael Hershman, President of Fairfax Group working for V.P. Singh at the time, stumbled across large payments going through Swiss bank accounts. V.P. Singh retained the services of Fairfax Group to investigate. However, in a cabinet reshuffle, V.P. Singh was eased out of his role as Finance Minister to Defence Minister and the investigation into Bofors came to a halt.
- 22 Apr 1987
Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter, citing highly placed company sources, identified the Hinduja brothers as recipients of commission in relation to the 1986 Bofors deal.
- 1 Jun 1987
The Swedish National Audit Bureau (SNAB) report was submitted to the Swedish Government, confirming that various commission payments were made to Svenska, the front company of Win Chadha. The report was forwarded to the Indian government. However, it was never made public and the names of recipients were not included.
- 15 Jul 1987
Amitabh Bachchan resigned from his seat in July 1987 after being accused of complicity in the Bofors scandal.
- 6 Aug 1987
A Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) was set up under congress politician B. Shankaranand to investigate allegations of corruption in the Bofors contract. Opposition parties opt to boycott the investigation.
- 18 Sep 1987
The President of Bofors, Per Ove Morberg, and its Vice-President and Chief Jurist, Lars Gothlin, appeared before the JPC, where they reiterated that payments were indeed made to three companies, but that these were winding-up charges and that no commission was paid to any Indian agent. No names of companies or beneficiaries were published as per secrecy regulations.
- 21 May 1988
Swedish Constitutional Affairs Committee concluded that the Bofors deal did not merit any grounds for criticism. According to a declassified CIA document, this was likely done to “save Gandhi the trouble caused by the Swedish leak”.
- 8 Nov 1988
Indian investigations in the Bofors case were entrusted to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which had registered a Preliminary Enquiry.
- 18 Jul 1989
The JPC report was presented to Lok Sabha. It concluded that ‘there is no evidence to show that any middleman was involved in the process of acquisition of the Bofors gun’.
- Nov 1989
Then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi lost power in a general election to V.P. Singh, of the Janata Dal (National Front). The new Prime Minister immediately banned Bofors from any future defence contracts with India.
- 22 Jan 1990
The CBI registered a complaint for the alleged offences of criminal conspiracy, cheating, forgery under the Indian Penal Code and other sections of the Prevention of Corruption Act against Ardbo, Win Chadda and the Hinduja brothers. This was later rejected by the Supreme Court of India.
- 26 Jan 1990
Swiss authorities froze six bank accounts, including Svenska, AE Services, and three accounts believed to have belonged to ‘Moresco’.
- 21 May 1991
Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated in Sriperumbudur, Tamil Nadu, Southern India as result of a suicide bombing by a Sri Lankan Tamil separatist.
- 17 Feb 1992
Journalist Bo Andersson, working for Dagens Nyheter, published a controversial report on the Bofors deal, alleging that Rajiv Gandhi personally received bribes.
Swiss authorities found a Swiss bank account belonging to Quattrocchi containing US $7 million. After he failed to respond to an official letter asking to prove the account was not linked to the Bofors deal, the Swiss authorities froze the account.
- 31 Mar 1992
Indian Minister for External Affairs, Madhavsing Solanki quit over the affair. He was accused of handing a note to Swiss Foreign Minister, Rene Felber, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, which contained a memorandum asking the Swiss authorities to go easy on the investigation.
- 9 Mar 1993
The Supreme Court rejected Win Chadha's plea to quash India’s request to Sweden for assistance in the case.
- 21 Jan 1997
Despite four years of appeals from the Hindujas to prevent this, 500 pages of secret documents were handed to Indian authorities at a public ceremony in Bern, Switzerland.
- 15 Jun 1998
Continued appeals by the Hindujas to block the delivery of the remaining Bofors documents were rejected for the final time by the Geneva Chambre D’Accusation and the Federal Tribunal. Their grounds for appeal: that their lives would be in danger if such documents were handed over.
- Dec 1999
The Swiss authorities handed over the remaining ‘Bofors Papers’ to India.
- 29 Jul 2000
The Indian Trial Court issued an arrest warrant against Martin Ardbo.
- 4 Feb 2004
A Delhi High Court cleared Rajiv Gandhi and Bhatnagar of involvement in the Bofors kickbacks scandal.
- Apr 2012
Former Swedish Police Chief, Sten Lindstrom, revealed in a landmark interview that he was the long-time whistleblower in the Bofors case. He also stated that the Swedish Police had no evidence that Rajiv Gandhi or Amitabh Bachchan ever received kickbacks. Amitabh had faced accusations of involvement for years.
Investigation Outcomesscroll to contents
Quattrocchi Evades Arrest
- 29 Jul 1993
Quattrocchi left India for Malaysia.
- 12 Feb 1997
India issued requests to Malaysia for the arrest of Quattrocchi.
- 19 Feb 1997
Quattrocchi was accused of a non-bailable offence and Interpol officials issued a ‘Red Corner Notice’ at the request of the CBI.
- 22 Oct 1999
The CBI filed its first charge sheet over the Bofors case, charging Quattrocchi under the Prevention of Corruption Act.
- 7 Nov 1999
An Indian Trial Court issued arrest warrants against Quattrocchi.
- 20 Dec 2000
Quattrocchi was finally arrested in Malaysia, but was granted bail under the condition that he would not leave the country. Two years later, a Malaysian court denied India's extradition request
- 29 Sep 2009
India’s government told the Supreme Court to withdraw the case against Quattrocchi entirely as continuous efforts of extradition had failed.
- 3 Jan 2011
An Indian Income Tax tribunal ruled that commissions in violation of Indian laws were indeed paid to Quattrocchi in the Bofors deal. However, a month later, a special CBI court in Delhi removed Quattrocchi from the case, saying the country cannot afford to spend hard-earned money on his extradition.
Quattrocchi was detained in Argentina on an Interpol notice, prompting India to issue an extradition request and a fresh arrest warrant. However, he was released on bail under the condition that he remained in Argentina, and India was once again forced to withdraw the extradition request.
- Oct 2008
Interpol withdrew its notice against Quattrocchi.
- 13 Jul 2013
Quattrocchi died of a heart attack in Milan. After fleeing from India in July 1993, Quattrocchi never appeared before any court in India.
The Case Against Win Chadha
- 12 Feb 1997
India issued requests to Malaysia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for the arrest of Win Chadha.
- 18 Mar 2000
Win Chadha landed in India to face trial.
- 4 Sep 2000
Win Chadha requested the Indian Supreme Court for permission to travel to Dubai for treatment. The Supreme Court rejected the request.
- 24 Oct 2001
Win Chadha died of a heart attack on 24 October, 2001 in New Delhi, aged 77, before any legal proceedings were completed.
- 3 Jan 2011
An Indian Income Tax tribunal ruled that commissions in violation of Indian laws were indeed paid to Win Chadha in the Bofors deal.
The Hinduja Brothers
- 9 Oct 2000
The CBI filed a supplementary chargesheet, this time naming Srichand Hinduja, Prakash Hinduja, and Gopichand Hinduja (collectively known as the ‘Hinduja Brothers’) as suspects.
- 29 Sep 2000
The Hindujas issued a statement in London implying that any funds they received from Bofors had no connection with the Indian gun deal.
- 15 Nov 2002
The Hinduja brothers were formally charged with cheating, criminal conspiracy and corruption in India.
- 31 May 2005
A Delhi High Court cleared the Hindujas of involvement in the Bofors scandal. The prosecution could not prove that the Hindujas played a direct role in securing the howitzer contract, nor that the nine payments made by Bofors to the Hinduja front company, McIntyre Corporation, were kickbacks.
Other Legal Developments
- 22 Oct 1999
The first CBI charge sheet over the Bofors case also charged S.K. Bhatnagar, Ardbo and Bofors AB under the Prevention of Corruption Act. Rajiv Gandhi featured as "an accused not sent for trial", as he was killed in 1991.
- 29 Jul 2000
The Indian Trial Court issued an arrest warrant against Martin Ardbo. However, he died in 2004, before any legal proceedings against him occurred.
- 4 Feb 2004
A Delhi High Court cleared Rajiv Gandhi and Bhatnagar of involvement in the Bofors kickbacks scandal.
- 1 Dec 2016
Ajay Agarwal, leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), filed an appeal challenging a Delhi High Court order that acquitted the accused in the Bofors case.
- 2 Dec 2016
The CBI informed the Supreme Court that authorities had not permitted it to file an appeal against the Delhi High Court verdict 11 years ago.
- 23 Jul 2017
Sten Lindström alleged that Olof Palme received a pay-off connected to the Bofors deal after a discussion on a flight from India involving Rajiv Gandhi and Olof Palme in 1986, which Martin Ardbo allegedly witnessed. He alleged that SEK 50 million (US $7,725,000) was donated by Bofors to a newly created Bofors’ foundation called Berglagsfonden, with SEK 30 million (US $4,635,000) intended for the ‘development of industry and employment in the name of Bergslagen’, an industrial region in central Sweden where the Swedish arms manufacturer is located. According to Lindström, "Palme had a problem with accepting any money from Bofors for his party and this was the solution”.
- 31 Jul 2017
The CBI said it would reopen the investigation on the Bofors case if the Supreme Court ordered them to.
- 1 Sep 2017
The Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal brought forward by Agarwal, challenging the 2005 Delhi High Court verdict.
- Oct 2017
Following a series of allegations made by Michael Hershman during an interview with Republic TV, the CBI insisted that they would rekindle their investigations.
Agarwal filed a plea requesting the recusal of the Chief Justice of India, Dipak Misra. The CBI filed its own appeal against the 2005 Delhi High Court order and submitted an application for a further probe into the Bofors case, claiming new evidence. The Supreme Court denied the CBI’s appeal
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