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The BBC's Jill McGivering
"One of the biggest corruption scandals this country has ever seen"
 real 56k

Thursday, 18 January, 2001, 18:19 GMT
Tracking the Hindujas
A Bofors howitzer
The Hindujas claim payments from Bofors had nothing to do with the Indian arms deal
By Jill McGivering in Delhi

The court appearance by the Hinduja brothers (London-based Srichand and Gopichand and Geneva-based Prakash) is the latest stage in an investigation by the Indian Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) which has stretched back more than a decade.

Rajiv Gandhi
Former premier Rajiv Gandhi was linked to the scandal
It relates to a major arms deal completed in March 1986 - a deal which involved the Swedish arms company Bofors selling a batch of 400 howitzer field guns to the Indian Government.

Soon afterwards, reports surfaced in the media that substantial bribes had been paid in connection with the sale - and Indian officials launched an investigation.

Investigators say they spent a decade in a lengthy court battle before they finally won the release through the Swiss courts of confidential bank records relating to several accounts held in Switzerland.

Businessmen and politicians implicated

In October last year, CBI officials filed a chargesheet naming the Hinduja brothers as co-conspirators in the alleged Bofors scandal.

This followed the issue a year earlier of a separate CBI chargesheet on the case which had implicated other international businessmen and several senior Indian politicians who'd been in office in 1986 when the deal was finalised - including the now late Rajiv Gandhi who had been the serving prime minister at the time.

Prosecutors say the court records have given them circumstantial evidence that more than 5m was paid by Bofors into the Swiss bank accounts they've been investigating, around the time the arms deal was done.

They also say they have evidence to prove the bank accounts belonged to the Hinduja brothers - and enough evidence to bring the case to trial.

As a result of the chargesheet, a court in Delhi summoned the Hinduja brothers to appear before it on 19 January to face the allegations.

Chance to clear their names

The Hindujas have consistently denied any wrongdoing.

They have been reported as saying that the Bofors payments had no relationship with the Indian arms deal. They say they see this court summons as a chance to clear their names.

Analysts say the judge presiding over Friday's court hearing will determine whether a second hearing must be ordered at which charges would be framed.

If this does happen, it's expected that the Hindujas will apply for bail and for permission to leave the country.

CBI officials have described this as one of the most important corruption cases India has ever seen - with far-reaching political implications.

Despite the length of the investigation, media interest in India has shown no sign of flagging - perhaps because so many of the characters allegedly involved in the scandal are so powerful and influential.

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