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Friday, October 22, 1999 Published at 17:21 GMT 18:21 UK

World: South Asia

Rajiv Gandhi in arms scam charges

A Bofors gun in operation in Kashmir

By Jyotsna Singh in Delhi

India's main detective agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has filed charges against a number of well-known figures in connection with the long-running Bofors arms scandal.

In the first charges filed in the case, the CBI has named the prime minister at the time, Rajiv Gandhi, as an accused in the case, although posthumous proceedings against him will not take place.

[ image: Rajiv Gandhi: Charges will not proceed]
Rajiv Gandhi: Charges will not proceed
Rajiv Gandhi's government was accused in 1986 of taking more than 60bn rupees ($3bn) in bribes in return for awarding a contract to the Swedish company which made Bofors guns.

Although Rajiv Gandhi denied any wrongdoing, the controversy led to the defeat of his party when the opposition made it a central election issue.

Since then, several governments have promised to speed up investigations into in the case, but these are the first charges to be made.

The CBI submitted the charges to a special court in Delhi, along with thousands of pages of documentary evidence.

The charges say that Ottavio Quattrochi, an Italian businessman thought to be close to the Gandhis, received more than $7m in kickbacks, while a non-resident Indian businessman, Win Chaddha, received $27m for the contract.

Other influential figures have been named as well.

The court has already issued an arrest warrant for Mr Quattrochi who is in Malaysia.

He has consistently denied the charges.

The Bofors case has resurfaced at a time when Rajiv Gandhi's widow, Sonia, has just taken over as the leader of the opposition in India's parliament.

Although charges against her husband have been dropped because he is no longer alive, these latest developments will be a further blow for the Congress Party which is trying to recover from its worst-ever performance in the general elections.

Reacting to the charges, Congress Party spokesman Anil Shastri said they were politically motivated.

However, a BJP spokesman, J P Mathur, denied that his party had influenced the case.

The Bofors investigation had started long before the BJP came to power, he said.

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