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HVK Archives: Sonia's politics - III

Sonia's politics - III - The Statesman

A G Noorani ()
January 31, 1998

Title: Sonia's politics - III
Author: A G Noorani
Publication: The Statesman
Date: January 31, 1998

Sonia Gandhi herself did not do too badly in Sanjay's Maruti, as
justice A C Gupta's Report shows (pp 76 and 81). By a formal
agreement dated 26 February 1973 between her 'and Maruti
Technical Services Private Ltd, she was appointed its Managing
Director, with Sanjay as its only other Director, for five years
at a salary of Rs 2,000 per month plus commission and perks. "It
was a fact known to all concerned that Shrimati Sonia Gandhi was
a foreign national" who could, under FERA, hold neither shares
nor office of profit from 1 January 1974. By the time she
resigned on 21 January 1975, she had received "quite a large sum
of money" (Rs 82,321). The ITO disallowed "a part of the
remuneration ... as excessive because she had no qualification to
be able to render any technical service to the company". Justice
Gupta found it "surprising that Shrimati Sonia Gandhi who did not
have any technical qualification should be appointed Managing
Director of a technical company".

An agreement of 28 September 1974 with Maruti Heavy Vehicles was
never put into effect. There was also an agreement concluded on
Fools' Day 1975 between Maruti Technical Services P Ltd. and
Maruti Heavy Vehicles P Ltd for sale of technical know-how by the
former for manufacturing road rollers.

MOTOR CARS

Sanjay, Rajiv, Sonia and Maruti Technical Services (whose
shareholders were Sanjay and Sonia) held controlling shares in
Maruti Heavy Vehicles. Justice Gupta observed: "It has been
found that Maruti Technical Services was not competent to render
technical know-how in respect of motor cars. There is no evidence
that it had the know-how in respect of road rollers." The
partner's "know-how" was confined to some arcane subjects. The
whole thing was a huge charade, for obvious motives, to which
Sonia was clearly privy along with Rajiv.

By mid-1987 neither the President nor the Chief of Army Staff had
any delusions about Rajiv. In August J R D Tata called on R
Venkataraman who records in his memoirs: "Tata said that though
it was quite possible that neither Rajiv nor members of his
family had received any consideration in the gun and other
defence deals, it would be difficult to deny the receipt of
commissions by the Congress Party. He felt that since 1980
industrialists had not been approached for political
contributions and that the general feeling among them was that
the party was financed by commissions on deals".

Those deals were in the power of the Government to conclude. If
the party received any commissions, it could only be through the
P M who approved of them. And which P M would have the money go
straight to the party treasurer or himself inform that
functionary of the commission? The money went to the P M.
Neither interlocutor wished to say that, obviously, but let the
facts speak for themselves. 1980 was the year Indira Gandhi
returned to power and paved the way for HDW and Bofors.

By mid-eighties India had acquired a reputation as "one of the
bosses at Nobel Industries" told Bo G Andersson of Dagens
Nyheter. (Nobel Industries owned Bofors). "The conclusion we came
to was that it was not possible to be successful in India if
politicians did not get money under the table". This highly
respected journalist's report was published in a responsible
Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter from 17 to 19 February 1992. The
same source told him that Bofors, indeed, paid "commissions" to
Rajiv, adding: "The money for Gandhi went through the British
enterprise A E Services. Without them Bofors would not have
stood a chance to get the other".

Read this with Chitra Subramaniam's report, published five years
later on 14 February 1997, on the basis of her independent
investigations. Ottavio Quattrochi received around $ 7 million in
kickbacks from Bofors through AES. He held an account in the
name of Colbar Investments Ltd in Geneva which received the money
through AES in London on 15 September 1986. It was cleared by
Bofors on 2 September 1986 and paid to a bank in Zurich before
its transfer to Geneva. On Quattrochi's instructions it was
forwarded to' an account in Guernsey a tax haven in the Channel
Islands. She quoted the Geneva account number. (Vide also her
reports in this paper on 28 and 30 November and 5 December 1990
on AES). No wonder alarm bells ring whenever Quattrochi's name
is mentioned. As Martin Ardbo, the Bofors chief, recorded in his
diary on 2 September 1987: "Q involvement was a problem because
he came (sic) close connection with R".

Payment was not to be made directly to Rajiv as "one of Nobel's
bosses" told Andersson. Ardbo "had got guarantees beforehand that
the money really was going to go (sic) to Gandhi and would not be
misappropriated on the way". Apparently, the same modus operandi
was adopted by Benazir Bhutto as well. Most of the foreign
accounts were opened through 19 fictitious companies in Switzer-
land and were operated through agents called "partners" - rather
like the "Gandhi Truste (e) lawyer". The AES account was opened
only to receive money from Bofors.

Sonia's challenge to publish the Bofors papers is spurious. There
exists a wealth of documentary and circumstantial evidence to
prove Rajiv's guilt. Some of it was set out by this writer in
this paper (Rajiv & Bofors; 21-23 February 1997). For instance,
shortly after the Swedish P M met Rajiv in New York, Olof Palme
wired to a colleague at home on 25 October 1985: "I discussed the
matter of Bofors gun with Rajiv Gandhi. He stated the following:
The Indian Army wanted the French howitzer ... the Indian
Government wanted Bofors". Evidently, the Army's opinion did not
count. Rajiv had already opted for Bofors and said as much to
the Swedish P M. The deal was struck then.

NOTORIETY

Nor is this all. There are other but neglected disclosures.
Rajiv Gandhi had earned notoriety in other capitals besides
Stockholm, Berne, Paris and London. In its issue of 11 November
1991 the well-known Swiss magazine Schweizer Illustrierte listed
14 former rulers of Third World countries who had stashed away
money there. Rajiv figured among them. His assets were 2.5
billion Swiss francs (Rs 4,625 crores roughly). Amal Dutta of the
CPI(M) raised it in the Lok Sabha on 17 December 1991. The
Speaker, Shivraj Patil, had the name expunged.

If that was a mere "newspaper report", the same cannot be said of
an article by Eugenia Alhats of Moscow News published in Izvestia
on 27 June 1992. It quoted from a letter by the former KGB
chief, V Chebrikov, to the CPSU Central Committee: "He (Rajiv)
expressed deep gratitude for the help being received by the Prime
Minister's family through commercial deals of an Indian firm,
controlled by it, with Soviet foreign trade organisations. In a
confidential message Mr Gandhi informed that a major part of
these resources was used to support the party of Mr Gandhi. The
article gave detailed references from the recently opened
archives.

Commenting on this report on 3 July, a spokesperson for the KGB's
successor, Russian Intelligence services, Tatiana Samolis
suggested that the KGB was only cting on instructions from the
CPSU.

In this respect, Sonia's country of adoption has' proved to be
inferior to the country of her birth. In a brilliant essay
entitled "Italy: A Web of Scandals in a Flawed Democracy"
contributed to the volume The Politics of Scandal, Judith Chubb
and Maurizio Vannicelli write: "Italy is a country in which
corrupt practices can be carried out with impunity, or at least
one in which the perpetrators of scandals are usually able to
enjoy a kind of diplomatic immunity that protects them against
punishment. The response to scandals is usually a non-response.
How can this incapacity of the Italian political and judicial
systems to respond effectively to scandals be explained?

GAINS

"The answer lies with artilocrazia, the domination of the Italian
state and of broad sectors of Italian society by the political
parties. To begin with, partilocrazia is a most expensive system.
Italian elections are fought in pursuit of gains that, though
generally minuscule, can alter the internal distribution of power
among government partners, which can, in turn, translate into
disproportionately large political and economic gains for those
parties that are able to expand their presence in the government
by "winning' an election." This was written a decade ago.

The Italian system has since ensured that a good few heads rolled
into the dust. It got at Giulio Andreotti. Our system has no
such results to show. Now that Sonia Gandhi is out in the open
as a politician, it is highly questionable whether she should
continue as chairperson of several trusts, which receive
government aid and are "affected with the public interest", to
use the expression pointed by the Supreme Court of the U S, a
haven of private enterprise. Swati Chaturvedi reported in this
paper on 3 September 1995 on Sonia's "acquisition of a Rs 100-
crore building through the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation". Clearly a
probe is called for into this as well as into a report by Sunil
Sethi in Indian Express of 24 September 1996 on the "life
trustees" of the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts.

For far too long Sonia Gandhi has enjoyed virtual immunity from
exposure and criticism in some quarters. That and the servility
of Congressmen only bred arrogance in her and contempt for those
time servers. She, they suspect, stands between them and
political oblivion. Meanwhile they make the best of it and
proudly proclaim in Gulliver's words as he took leave of his
master - a horse: "I took a second leave of my master, but as I
was going to prostrate myself to kiss his hoof, he did me- the
honour to raise it gently to my mouth ... Detractors are pleased
to think it improbable that so illustrious a person should
descend to give so great a mark of distinction to a creature so
inferior as I".


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