New Delhi: The Bofors scandal may return to haunt the Congress after a parliamentary panel's sub-committee sought re-opening of the case that significantly contributed to the downfall of the Rajiv Gandhi government in the 1989 General Elections.
The sub-committee on Defence attached to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), headed by Biju Janata Dal MP Bhartruhari Mahtab, suggested that the case be reopened.
BJP MP Nishikant Dubey is learnt to have pointed out at the meeting of the PAC that if charges relating to Babri Masjid could be revived against some BJP leaders (L.K. Advani and Uma Bharti) through a court process, the same could apply to the Bofors case.
A committee member, who did not wish to be named, told IANS that it was a suggestion from the panel, as it was felt that there were many loopholes in the earlier investigation.
The six-member PAC subcommittee on Defence is looking into non-compliance of certain aspects of the CAG report of 1986 on the deal.
On Thursday, CBI Director Alok Kumar Verma had appeared before the panel, which asked him to put up the case considering systematic failure in the Bofors contract as well as charges of bribery against top political leaders and officials.
"The government at that time wanted the case to be closed. Now it depends on the government and the Supreme Court to restart the investigation... the committee gave a suggestion," the member said.
Asked about reports of files related to the case missing from the Defence Ministry, the member said they were told the files were in the court.
The Congress termed the demand for re-opening the case as politically motivated
"We know that court has settled the issue. Several BJP leaders have used it to further their political interest. An effort is being made to replant it to select (news) channels. It can be agenda of some friends. But the truth does not need any cover and the truth has been probed," Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala told IANS.
The CBI, which probed the kickback case whose trial ran till 2011 after almost 25 years of the scam-tainted gun deal with the Swedish company, however, said it can launch re-investigation only if the Supreme Court or the central government orders it.
"We need court or government order to re-investigate the case. Can a committee recommend the CBI to start a probe," CBI spokesperson R.K. Gaur told IANS adding that the probe agency was not saying anything more on the issue.
The BJP said it was for the CBI to respond to a proposal or a recommendation from the PAC.
BJP spokesperson G.V.L. Narasimha Rao said the CBI would respond to the PAC "which is a body of the parliament and not a wing of the government".
"It is the members of the PAC have asked the CBI whether it could be reopened. The BJP doesn't have anything to say further beyond that," Rao told IANS.
CPI's D. Raja said law must take its course on Bofors and the "CBI must do what they have to do".
The alleged corruption in the Bofors gun deal had created a scandal in the middle of Rajiv Gandhi's term as Prime Minister in 1987 and had significantly contributed to the political discourse against his party, which lost the Lok Sabha elections in 1989.
The case was finally closed after a plea by the CBI on March 5, 2011, when a Delhi court ruled that the "hard-earned" tax-payers' money could not be spent "on these type of proceedings which are not going to do any good to them".
The main accused, Ottavio Quattrocchi, an Italian businessman, who had fled the country in the mid-1990s, died two years after the case was closed and charges against him were dropped. Quattrocchi was said to be close to the Gandhi family.
The case came up again before the Supreme Court in 2016 with the CBI informing it that the then UPA government led by the Congress had denied permission to it to appeal against the Delhi court order.