Sonia”s politics – III A G Noorani
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.
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.
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?
“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”.