Supreme Court judge recuses himself in Bofors case

New Delhi: A new Bench of Supreme Court will hear the plea for revival of the Rs 64 cr Bofors case after Justice A.M. Khanwilkar announced on Tuesday that he was recusing himself from the case. One of the three judges who was hearing the case, Justice Khanwilkar did not give any reason for his decision.

During the resumed hearing of the petition filed by advocate Ajay Agarwal challenging the Delhi high court’s discharge of UK-based industrialists Hind-ujas in the Bofors guns pay-off case, Justice Khanwilkar, without giving any reason told the counsel that he was recusing himself. The CJI then said that the matter would be posted before another bench for hearing on March 28.

Mr Agarwal had sought the recusal of Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra alleging that he was “prejudiced” and “bent upon” dismissing the politically-sensitive case without going into its merits.

The Bench hearing the PIL was led by CJI Misra, Justices Khanwilkar and D.Y. Chandrachud.

Mr Agarwal said he was compelled to file the petition against the high court judgment as the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) had failed to approach the apex court with a Special Leave Petition (SLP) against the verdict.

On behalf of the CBI, it was brought to the court’s notice that an appeal was filed earlier this month. Appearing for the CBI, additional solicitor general Tushar Mehta submitted that the agency has appealed the high court decision to discharge the Hindujas in 2005, and that the appeals are being cured of defects in the SC registry.

The CBI had moved the Supreme Court despite a negative opinion from attorney-general K.K. Venugopal that such an appeal, delayed by over a dozen years, would be rejected by the apex court.

The 69-page appeal defended the delay by saying that “crime never dies and lapse of time is no bar to proceed against offenders however powerful they may be”.

The Delhi high court had in May 2005 quashed all charges against the Hinduja brothers — Srichand, Hinduja, Gopichand and Prakashchand — and the Bofors company and criticised the CBI for its handling of the case saying it had cost the exchequer Rs 250 crore.

The petition by CBI relies on a media interview given by investigator Michael Hershman, who has given new information which, the CBI says, must be probed and the case re-opened. Further, CBI said the Delhi high court had rejected the agency’s evidence relying on some Swedish documents. The high court, the CBI submitted, was wrong in rejecting these documents which are in public domain and must be accepted.

According to the CBI, Mr Hershman, the first secret investigator into Bofors papers, had revealed the truth for the first time in a TV interview and exposed former Prime Minister late Rajiv Gandhi and the then Congress-led government.

Mr Hershman hinted that powerful politicians exist in India who fear being identified in Bofors. He further alleged that the Congress government had sabotaged his investigation.

Mr Hershman, who is the president of US-based private detective firm Fairfax, said that Rajiv Gandhi was “furious” when he found a Swiss bank account uncovered”. He has expressed willingness to testify and help Indian agencies in the Bofors gun pay-off scandal, the CBI said in its appeal.