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Page last updated at 12:34 GMT, Tuesday, 31 May 2005 13:34 UK

Q&A: Hinduja Bofors case

Prakash (left) and Srichand Hinduja arriving at court in Delhi in 2001
The decision by an Indian court to acquit the three billionaire Hinduja brothers in an arms bribery case brings back into the headlines one the richest and most controversial families in the world.

BBC News looks at the reclusive Hindujas and how the case against them unravelled.

Who are the Hindujas?

Described as one of the most influential families in the world, the Hindujas have business interests that span the world through their transnational Hinduja group.

With global business interests that cover transport, media, banking, chemicals and energy they are estimated to have assets amounting to around $8bn.

They have cultivated relationships with world figures as diverse as members of the governing British Labour Party, Queen Elizabeth, former US President Bill Clinton and Michael Jackson.

Often described as reclusive, they have nevertheless remained in the public eye through the long-running Bofors arms case and a recent political row in Britain over the passport applications by two of the brothers, Srichand and Gopichand Hinduja.

The political fall-out of the passport case in Britain in 2001 led to the resignation of Labour cabinet minister Peter Mandelson and to accusations of involvement - subsequently rejected by a parliamentary inquiry - against another leading Labour Party member, Keith Vaz.

What were the brothers charged with in the Bofors case?

Prosecutors had alleged that $8.3m was paid to three of the Hinduja brothers by Bofors in illegal commissions at the time of a massive arms deal between the Swedish firm and the Indian government.

British citizens Srichand and Gopichand Hinduja, and Prakash, who is Swiss, were charged with criminal conspiracy and bribery in connection with the 1986 deal.

A fourth Hinduja brother, Ashok, who lives in Mumbai (Bombay), was not charged in the case.

The brothers always strongly denied any wrongdoing.

If they had been convicted, they would each have faced up to seven years in prison.

The charges followed a long investigation by Indian police which also implicated a number of top politicians, including the late Rajiv Gandhi, who was prime minister at the time of the arms deal.

His alleged role in the case led to him losing elections in 1989, but he was posthumously cleared of any wrongdoing in 2004.

Why were the brothers acquitted in the arms bribery case?

A High Court judge in Delhi said prosecutors had failed to provide evidence to substantiate the charges against the Hindujas.

The judge said the prosecution had failed to produce either authenticated documents or originals of the Swiss documents that formed the basis of the charges.

He said the documents on which India's Central Bureau of Investigation had based its case were "useless and dubious" since their authenticity could not be verified.

Why has the case taken so long?

The police investigation and trial of the Bofors case have been long-drawn out for a number of reasons.

The primary problem was the suspected involvement in the arms deal and the allegations of bribery of senior Indian politicians, including the late Rajiv Gandhi.

The ability of the police to interview all the brothers were hampered by two of them residing in Britain and obtaining British nationality and a third being a Swiss citizen.

The three brothers deny that they applied for nationality status in Britain and Switzerland as a result of the corruption allegations.

The attempts to bring the case to trial have also been beset by legal wrangling. In June 2002, the charges of involvement in bribery against the Hindujas were thrown out of court on a legal technicality, but a month later the Indian Supreme Court reinstated them.

How important is the case in India?

It is the most serious legal affair to have affected Indian commercial and political life over the last three decades.

Allegations were made not only against the fabulously rich Hinduja brothers but also against some of India's most prominent political leaders.

The case has dogged Indian political life for nearly two decades and has led to a long and costly police investigation and legal process.

The Hinduja brothers have said that the long-drawn out row and the accusations against them have harmed their multi-billion dollar business interests.

What happens next?

Prosecutors have the right to appeal against the ruling in the Supreme Court.

But lawyers and legal experts say even if they do, there is little chance of their appeal succeeding.



SEE ALSO
Hindujas acquitted in Bofors case
31 May 05 |  South Asia
Hinduja 'did not seek favours'
25 Jan 01 |  South Asia
Bofors charges against Hindujas
09 Oct 00 |  South Asia

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