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Hindujas acquitted in Bofors case

Tuesday 31 May 2005

An Indian court has acquitted the three billionaire Hinduja brothers in a high profile arms bribery case.

The High Court in Delhi threw out all charges against Britons Srichand and Gopichand Hinduja and Swiss citizen Prakash Hinduja for lack of evidence.

Swedish firm AB Bofors was alleged to have paid them illegally in the $1.3bn sale of 400 howitzers to India in 1986.

The Hindujas say the judgement vindicates them and proves that they were never involved in any wrongdoing.

In its ruling on Tuesday, the High Court said the prosecution had failed to produce any original documents to substantiate their charge.

The court said the documents in which the investigative agency had relied on were "useless and dubious material" since their authenticity could not be verified.

Judge RS Sodhi criticised India’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for wasting public money and time on the case.

"I must express my disapproval that 14 years of trial and 2.5bn rupees ($57m) of public money was spent on the case.

"It has caused huge economical, emotional, professional and personal loss to the Hindujas," the judge said in court.

He also ordered that bail posted by the Hindujas be returned to them.

The CBI, which has the right to appeal against the ruling in the Supreme Court, says it is studying the judgement.

’Falsely implicated’

In a statement released in London, the Hindujas said the ruling provided judicial endorsement that they were not involved in any wrongdoing and said they had been falsely implicated.

"It has been a long period of harassment and suffering in a personal sense and also business-wise and nothing can compensate for that," the statement said.

"However, we are delighted that the truth has prevailed and our faith in the Indian judicial system has been vindicated."

The Bofors arms case has been one of India’s most high-profile and longest-running corruption cases, lasting for nearly 15 years.

It led to the election defeat of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1989, two years before he was assassinated.

Last year, Mr Gandhi was posthumously cleared of any wrongdoing in the deal, which was signed when he was in office.

Political scandal

The brothers head a global business empire in a number of sectors including banking, transportation and pharmaceuticals.

In 2001 they were at the centre of a political scandal in the UK over a passport application and had denied seeking favours to gain UK citizenship.

It led to the resignation of British cabinet minister Peter Mandelson, a close ally of Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Prosecutors in India say they received millions of dollars in commission from Bofors (now known as Kartongen Kemi Och Forvaltning AB) for the arms deal.

Commissions on defence deals are illegal in India.

Defence lawyers said the money paid by Bofors was part of a long-time consultancy agreement.

Indian prosecutors have over the years also charged Bofors agent WN Chadha, the Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi and former Bofors chief Martin Ardbo.

Chadha has since died, while prosecutors have failed to obtain the presence in court of Mr Ardbo or Mr Quattrocchi.

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