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The return of the Bofors controversy, via the tax angle




During the time of the Second World war and just before the war, the US was suffering from the pressure of the mafia leaders, with the mafia controlling some sections of the economy, thwarting local law and order, and becoming very close to local state politicians. One of the biggest such mafia leaders was a person called Al Capone, and the US Government tried its best to get him convicted of his crimes; but his influence and reach was such that no one was willing to testify against him. So a dedicated set of officers was sent to get him, and they finally managed to get Capone in jail, his powers drastically reduced. The interesting twist was that the conviction was not based on any criminal activity, instead he was convicted for tax evasion and sentenced to many years in a jail (and this was good enough for the Government).
Why the reason for this story ? The Congress High Command would do well to remember this story. In a decision that maybe has pushed the Bofors case back to the top of public attention, the Income tax tribunal has essentially declared that kickbacks were paid in the deal to Win Chadha and Quattrocchi, something that no other court could every fully establish or the CBI could prove.
The Bofors deal has fully died from the plethora of issues that are there in the public space, the successful conclusion of a series of steps to thwart any significant investigation of the issue. At one time, the Bofors issues was so powerful that it brought down a ruling Prime Minister; Rajiv Gandhi came into power with the highest majority of any politician in India, and by the end of his term, the controversy had brought him down to a level that he lost the election. However, after that, the investigation never did reach to any point that could pinpoint who was responsible. And when the Congress in the form of the UPA came back to power, it led to the ending of any further attempt to investigate the scam.

So, over a period of time, various steps were taken to close down the investigation, such as the unfreezing of accounts belonging to Quattrocchi, the weakening of cases in various countries where Quattrocchi was detained as part of the Interpol remand, the opinions from legal men attached to the UPA that the cases should be closed, and finally the opinion from the Prime Minister of the country (Manmohan Singh) that the cases against Quattrocchi should be closed.
In addition to the impact on the Bofors case, there are significant repercussions on 2 major institutions. One really does not expect too much out of Sonia Gandhi in this regard, since she is the directly affected party and one would have expected her to use all her influence to close the case (and which is why, any effort by her to push for anti-corruption drives is not believable); the impact on the reputation of the CBI and that of the Prime Minister is significant. The Prime Minister had a high reputation in terms of honesty and integrity – those are now in tatters, and it is quite possible that when he does leave, his legacy will be viewed as mostly negative rather than positively. His zero efforts to stop the slowdown of Bofors, his efforts at preventing corruption in scams such as the CWG, 2G, etc now show him as being implicated even if he is not personally ‘on the take’.
The most significant impact on a reputation is of that on the CBI, which is now seen as a severely compromised agency, incapable of any independent investigation. This must be traumatic for those officers of the agency who are honest, and who see political interference blocking all their attempts. This is obvious to all citizens as well, and who are now increasingly perceiving the Congress as being one of the most corrupt parties in the country. The decision of the Income Tax tribunal has contributed hugely to this feeling.




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