New Delhi: BJP leader Arun Jaitley said that the NDA government made all efforts to bring the guilty to book in the Bofors scam and alleged that successive Congress-led governments or those supported by that party tried to "kill" the case.
Speaking to Karan Thapar on Devil's advocate, he said that during the NDA regime from 1998 to 2004, the Bofors case was taken to its "logical conclusion" and the CBI, which was probing it, acted independently of the government.
Here is the full transcript of the interview:
Karan Thapar:Hello and welcome to Devil's Advocate. With the Bofors controversy back in the news, how does the BJP face up to the questions it must answer. That's the key issue I should explore today with the Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha, Arun Jaitley.
Mr Jaitley, your colleague in the Lok Sabha, Jaswant Singh has demanded a judicial commission into the Bofors affair. Is this the official position of the BJP?
Arun Jaitley:Well, Mr Jaswant Singh is a very senior man and when he says something he says it on authority and party fully agrees with him. The real intention being whether you have a full debate or have committee or commission, should not after 25 years of the disclosure. The Indian society knows, that not withstanding the fact that the entire truth came out, in terms of law we are unable to prosecute the concerned people. Therefore I think since, this was the terrible chapter in history where you had corruption at a very high level and yet you are a failure of the system, at least we need to know what went wrong.
Karan Thapar:But let me put to you, as a former Law Minister, do you believe a judicial commission is a fitting and the appropriate way of enquiring into a matter, that the High Court has closed?
Arun Jaitley: Well there are possible argument that there will be difficulty in that, I quite concede to you on that. But at the same time you call it a committee, you call it a Parliamentary committee, you call it an administrative committee of the government. But then must be a fair assessment of what went wrong, and I think this was the intention behind what Jaswant Singh suggested.
Karan Thapar:In other words what we need, is an enquiry that shows where lapse are made. And if possible also point up the responsibility for those lapse on individuals or on goofs?.
Arun Jaitley:And I think it is more important that this sad chapter of history, at least the truth must be distort some where.
Karan Thapar:The important thing is to get to the truth?
Arun Jaitley:I think that's the pursuit of truth is most important aspect.
Karan Thapar:Alright in getting at the truth. Let's begun with Sonia Gandhi, Sten Lindstrom, the whistleblower has said "Sonia Gandhi must be questioned, I know what I am saying." Do you agree with him?
Arun Jaitley:Well, he must be having some material on basis, he said so, but as far as the Indian system is concerned, the Indian system proceeds on the basis that when investigations are in progress, investigator reach a particular conclusion, facts come before them. If any person is in position of information which can help in investigation to find out the truth, they are entitled to question that person.
Karan Thapar:In your eyes, is Sonia Gandhi in that position? Are we entitled to question her?
Arun Jaitley:I would say, it would entirely depend on the kind of information that the CBI had, which the CBI case diaries and record would disclose. It would really depend on that and the crucial question would be, in swinging the contract where did Mr Quattrocchi draw his influence from?
Karan Thapar:Did that influence come from Sonia Gandhi? That's a critical question.
Arun Jaitley:I think, it is the record of the CBI and the nature of the investigation that would answer that question.
Karan Thapar:Your colleague is General Secretary of the party, he is the Chief Spokesperson of the BJP, Ravi Shankar Prasad has gone on record to say Sonia Gandhi has a lot of explaining to do. If she has explaining to do...
Arun Jaitley:Why Ravi Shankar, even I have also said this in the past.
Karan Thapar:If you said it and standby, then does she need to be questioned?
Arun Jaitley:I have said it in the past also. There is one aspect making to the state to the media and the reason for that is, where did Mr Quattrocchi draw his influence. If you go though the fact which have come out, is now almost established on record, available with the CBI, obviously he was successful in swinging the contract, he was not an official middleman, he got paid. Why did he get paid and where did he draw his influence from? Somebody has to answer that question.
Karan Thapar:Absolutely and that somebody as you are suggesting is Sonia Gandhi. But the point is this, from 1998 to 2004 the 6 years of the BJP was in power, the CBI didn't make any afford whatsoever to question?
Arun Jaitley:Your question is based on complete ignorance. If CBI made substantial progress, it was made during two periods.
Karan Thapar:But they didn't question her, that's the point?
Arun Jaitley:Questioning her is one aspect, but the CBI in establishing the truth made huge progress and I owe to you since you asked this question, to tell you what progress the CBI made.
Karan Thapar:But the question I asked you is that in the 6 years when you were in power, the CBI, didn't question her once, they made no effort to do so.
Arun Jaitley:That the discretion CBI has to exercise, if they have the material to question they would question, they don't have material, they don't.
Karan Thapar:Can I quote Sten Lindstrom? He said "it can't be the coincidence that Quattrocchi gets the money in this way, there must be some connection. She can explain it somewhere and in someway it will be very helpful."
Arun Jaitley:There is a common sense presumption that Quattrocchi drove strength from some place, that he got the money in the contract where he was not the middleman. But the record and diaries of the CBI will show, if CBI reached a particular conclusion on basis of which they need to cross examine somebody or not, that is the question CBI better suited to to answer.
Karan Thapar:Just a moment, you either saying CBI is failed to do what they should have done? Or they didn't reach the position where they need it to do it.
Arun Jaitley:Well I am not aware of the records so I am not going to speculate that.
Karan Thapar:Expect for the fact, that you began by saying, you agree with the Ravi Shankar Prasad that she has explaining to do. If she has explaining to do, she should have been questioned, if she wasn't questioned...
Arun Jaitley:Well, it's an explaining where the entire leadership of the Congress has to do, as to where and why did Quattrocchi draw this influence from in order to swing the contract. We are talking in terms of legally admissible evidence, you can't ask me a question which really CBI should be answering.
Karan Thapar:No, I am asking a different issue. I am saying if there is a reason to question her and she wasn't questioned, that's their addiction. And she wasn't questioned because there is no case against her, the you can't say she has explaining to do.
Arun Jaitley:It's a very good question you are asking to me, which is the question you should ask to CBI not me.
Karan Thapar:I tell you why I asked it because many people say that there was a secret understating between the BJP and Congress, not to question Sonia Gandhi.
Arun Jaitley:I think it is complete rubbish, there is no question to that effect. The CBI had full freedom during NDA period, to proceed with the case in the manner they considered the best and they did their job.
Karan Thapar:I tell you why I raised this question because George Fernandes told this channel on the March 11, 2007, that he wanted to probe Bofors and he was told by Mr Vajpayee not to do so. His exact words were "Vajpayee told me not to touch this."
Arun Jaitley:Well according to me the investigation was not with the Defence Ministry, the investigation was with the CBI. The CBI not only and now I use this opportunity to answer the question, you told me you asked me. When in 1998 Mr Vajpayee became the Prime Minister, you had an FIR, you had Letter Rogatory, you had details of accounts coming in, you had documents. The CBI concluded the entire investigation. In 1999 the CBI files the chargesheet, the accused were prosecuted, charges were farmed in court. Therefore the entire due process of the law was being carried out and therefore it is not for a minister, its for the CBI to investigate the case and CBI was doing it.
Karan Thapar:Except for the fact that you were Law Minister for much of this time. And except for the fact that one critical person who should not be questioned, was never questioned. Let me again quote Sten Lindstrom, he says "it has always amazed and it continues to..."
Arun Jaitley:I don't think we in India makes statement to that effect where politicians decide who CBI should question.
Karan Thapar:Just a moment, let me finish quote of Sten Lindstrom, he says "it is always amazed and it continues to amaze me as to why Indian investigators didn't take obvious step of questioning her."
Arun Jaitley:Obviously I think Mr Lindstrom has lot of information on the basis of he says so. If that information is available with the CBI, he is probably right. But that is the question which has to be addressed to them.
Karan Thapar:A second aberration, in the way which BJP handles Bofors, arise is directly you said It something in the Parliament this Thursday. You said and I quite "in 2004 one judgment said no case is made out, it wasn't even appealed against and we gave the whole burial to the case". But infact the government that should have appealed and refused to do so, was your and you were Law Minister.
Arun Jaitley:Well I think lets be correct the dates.
Karan Thapar:The date is February 4, 2004
Arun Jaitley:Yes, I know. The CBI got the copy of the judgment, the CBI processed the copy, the CBI recommended the filing of the appeal, and the government law officers advised them to file the appeal. The CBI because of the court vacations and the pending elections, was to file an appeal, the government changed and the new government overrule the opinion and said appeal should not be not be made.
Karan Thapar:Just a moment, The Delhi High Court judgment of February 4, 2004, it had to be appeal begun within 90 days or it could be technically time bar. Those 90 days lapsed on May 4 and you were in power till after the May 28, it was your responsibility to do so.
Arun Jaitley:You are absolutely mistaken, its 90 days when you obtained the copy of the judgment and therefore the limitation was expired sometime in the month of June. The CBI prepared it's case for an appeal, the CBI got all the opinions when the government changed and it was the Congress government which took a decision, not to file the appeal.
Karan Thapar:Are you saying to me that infact the blame for not filing the appeal rest on the Congress not the BJP?
Arun Jaitley:Entirely because the record would show, during the NDA government the record was entirely prepared, advices and opinion given, why that incorrect judgment must appealed again.
Karan Thapar:I tell you two reason, why the blame lies with an not the Congress. First of all, even if you are correct and saying the 90 days period ended in June and not on the fourth of the May 4 as I pointed out. You confined an appeal within 70 days or 60 days, you don't really need to that
Arun Jaitley:You can file in two days.
Karan Thapar:In which case why u didn't you.
Arun Jaitley:Well it is the question that CBI processes have to go through, their entire processes have to move the file upward, take a law officers opinion, their own legal department opinion. Everything they did, they had till June to file an appeal which would strictly be filed on the reopening of the court because June was vacations. The government changed and the first act of the UPA government was, to advice the CBI not file it.
Karan Thapar:I tell you why infact there is a second reason for blaming the BJP because you should have known, there was no way the Congress is going to appeal against a judgment that exonerated its leader.
Arun Jaitley:We dont know we were losing the elections.
Karan Thapar:Secondly, judgment that they had used in the campaign, they tom-tom and drum beaten the judgment. They are not going to appeal against the judgment.
Arun Jaitley:I think you question is based on very weak footings, for the simple reason you are blaming a government which advised the filing of an appeal, as against a government which advised not to filing the appeal. I think your anger in your questions should be directed against those who advised against not filing the appeal.
Karan Thapar:I tell you why my anger, if you want to call it anger, actually it's not anger , its skepticism and cynicism, is directed to you. Because Vijay Shankar speaking to rediff.com on the August 15 ,2007 when he was CBI director said "my predecessor in the CBI and Arun Jaitley created a weak case, that's why he says we were not able to proceed when it came to Argentina and we lost it in the first court.
Arun Jaitley:Well I wrote to him when he write the statement, he called me up and said he has been misquoted and regretted this particular statement, but that apart, it's a incorrect statement which he regretted to me personally. As far as Argentina is concerned, let's get the facts through, so that this smoke screen doesnt remain for you. Mr Quattrocchi escaped to Malaysia in 1994, when information came that the beneficiary account was his, no efforts were made to extradite him. We made an effort after 1998 to extradite.
Karan Thapar:And failed.
Arun Jaitley:We failed. So we appeal to the highest court in Malaysia.
Karan Thapar:And failed.
Arun Jaitley:We didn't fail there, you are incorrect. We appeal to the highest court and he escaped from Malaysia over the weekend, when the CBI appeal was coming on Monday for hearing. In the weekends between Friday and Monday he escaped from Malaysia. He was next found in 2007 in Argentina, our ambassador Mr Rath asked the Government of India whether he should take steps to get him and send him to India. The Government of India advised him that this process is to costly and no effort in this regard should be taken.
Karan Thapar:Expect the facts the CBI director who have quoted just now said, the reason they failed in Argentina because you and the CBI predecessor prepared a weak case.
Arun Jaitley:Well that's factually incorrect, that CBI during Congress government which tried to put a burial to this case. They obviously cannot blame the predecessor. You first take a decision not to file an appeal thereafter you start telling the crown prosecutor in the England to defreeze the account and then you say my predecessor went wrong.
Karan Thapar:Let me raise a third so called aberration in the manner in which, this time not BJP but you personally have handled this issue. Mani Shankar Aiyar in Parliament, Chitra Subramanian writing in Outlook magazine this week, both have said that the Letter Rogatory prepared when you were Additional Solicitor General was shoddy. It had handwriting all over it, it had pieces of paper stuck all over it, it has staple and Chitra Subramanian adds that it was thrown out.
Arun Jaitley:Well the Letter Rogatory was issued by an Indian court, it is not issued my Additional Solicitor General, these are all propaganda. After the Letter Rogatory was issued by an Indian court, some misleading arguments were made. And you know what was the kind of arguments was raised, why do you have a special judge in India trying this case, why not an ordinary judge? These were the kind of objections, not realising that the CBI cases prosecuted by the special judge. The Letter Rogatory questions were raised the CBI answered the questions and what Mani Shankar Aiyar doesnt say, it is on basis of that Letter Rogatory that the actually the Swiss authorities conveyed the beneficiaries of the accounts. The five names came pursuant to that Letter Rogatory, the documents came back pursuant to the process after the Lettr Rogatory and not withstanding the fact that the Congress government took various steps including Mr Madhav Singh Solanki asking the Swiss not to cooperate with India. But all the documents and the evidence came because of that Letter Rogatory.
Karan Thapar:Alright I will grant that to you. Let's take a break and come back and pick up on a key point that you made in your Parliamentary speech on Thursday. You said that the time had come to introspect and secondly to try and understand how it is, that we ended up killing the truth. Back in the moments time, see you after break.
Karan Thapar:Welcome back to Devils Advocate, in an interview with leader of the opposition in Rajya Sabha on how BJP has handled the Bofors controversy.
Arun Jaitley in Thursday on Parliament you said and I quote this is the text book illustration of a fraud as to how to kill the pursuit to get to the truth. The central point I have been making in part one is that, some of the fraud has happened when the BJP in power and some time, it happened when you were Law Minister. So, do you accept that your failure to ensure that Sonia was questioned is part of that.
Arun Jaitley:I completely reject that suggestion. You had two faces of completely non-Congress government or government not supported by the Congress. In 1990, for three years no FIR was registered from 87 to 90, you registered an FIR, you got the accounts frozen in 1990, and you sent a Letter Rogatory. Thereafter in 1998 when the next government came you filed a complete chargesheet and I can tell you, I personally seen the charges, the documents substantially established the charges.
Karan Thapar:Can I then interrupt and put this to you, if you filed the chargesheet when you were there in power. How come no one took the critical, essential and obviously step of questioning Sonia Gandhi. Once again I am going to quote Sten Lindstrom, he says if you examine the logic in the document in one hand and the direction of the cover up on the other that is the obvious step to take.
Arun Jaitley:Well I am afraid he may well have basis to say that but the decision whom to question is not taken by the Prime Minister or the Law Ministry. It is taken by the CBI and therefore the CBI will do it on the basis of the evidence with the CBI has available.
Karan Thapar:The whole point I am making and I have quoted George Fernandes in support of quoted public opinion. There was collusion between the BJP and Congress not to question her.
Arun Jaitley:Well if you just see the kind of evidence you will realise by yourself. Evidence number one you had a contract with AE services of Mr Quattrocchi entered in to, which helped the contract to be swung in favour of Bofors. AE services gets the commission, the person behind AE services is Mr Quattrocchi.
Karan Thapar:He is a Italian and he is a friend of Sonia Gandhi.
Arun Jaitley:He is Italian and he allowed to escape from India when Narasimha Rao was in power.
Karan Thapar:You are making my case for me. Why then did you not have her questioned?
Arun Jaitley:Will this is the decision on the basis of the evidence which CBI has to take.
Karan Thapar: Arun Jaitley ,no one in India believe that the CBI operate autonomously to the extend of you blaming.
Arun Jaitley:I can tell you the CBI under NDA operated on professional line, even in Mr Advani's cases they went without the advise of the government. They had prosecutors who were completely independent in those cases.
Karan Thapar:Why did Atal Bihari Vajpayee tell George Fernandes, don't touch Bofors.?
Arun Jaitley:Well I doubt very much because in the NDA regime Bofors was actually taken to its logical conclusion.
Karan Thapar:This is the convener of the NDA who told to the Prime Minister.
Arun Jaitley:I dont know whether he correctly quoted or not. The facts indicate.
Karan Thapar:Not correctly quoted he said it on the camera.
Arun Jaitley:But the facts indicate to the contrary , the chargesheet is filed, people are prosecuted, Mr Rajiv Gandhi shown in column two in the chargesheet. You are asking me the question which is to the contrary.
Karan Thapar: The reason I am asking because the one critical lady who could have shed light on the whole thing, who was a Italian, who was a friend of Quattrocchi, was never questioned.
Arun Jaitley:Perhaps there were may have a need and may have not been need, it is for a CBI to decide.
Karan Thapar:Hang on a moment, if you believe she has explaining to do which you agreed to do in part one, the there was a need to question?
Arun Jaitley:There is a explaining which she and every Congressman has to do, Why Quattrocchi got paid.
Karan Thapar:But she cant explain, if you not question her.
Arun Jaitley:So therefore whether CBI considered it as a legally admissible evidence or not, is the question you must address to the CBI.
Karan Thapar:I am suggesting and I will say upfront that actually the CBI was told by the Government, the BJP government, hands off Sonia Gandhi. Thats why you people have the case to answer her as well.
Arun Jaitley:It's a figment of your imagination, it has not truth and no connection with any form of reality.
Karan Thapar:In you speech in Parliament on Thursday, you also said we need to introspect, how easy it has become for people who indulge in these kind of activities. I put it you, one reason why some of got a way and I deliberately wont take name.
Karan Thapar:It's because you didnt question people who should have been questioned.
Arun Jaitley:Absolutely rubbish, the reason for that is, you had large tenures of Congress government or Congress supported government which tried to kill the case.
Karan Thapar:Except for the fact from 98 to 2004, it was BJP unbroken for six years and questioning didnt happen?
Arun Jaitley:Except for the fact that during that period, the chargesheets was filed, Quattrocchi was named an accused and charges were framed.
Karan Thapar:So, you honestly telling me that you dont have any sense of regret, leave aside guilt about the way BJP handled Bofors.
Arun Jaitley:I have no sense of guilt but I have one regret. The NDA did what NDA could, it was the Congress which tried to kill the case.
Karan Thapar:Did the NDA really do what it could when it stopped short to question Sonia?
Arun Jaitley:Well the NDA doesn't have to cross examine Mrs Gandhi or any other person, it is the CBI. And CBI will do it on the basis of the material CBI has.
Karan Thapar:Alright, Arun Jaitley, a pleasure talking to you.