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Who will probe first family's billions?

Who will probe first family's billions?

Author: S Gurumurthy
Publication: The New Indian Express
Date: April 30, 2009
URL: http://www.expressbuzz.com/edition/story.aspx?Title=Who+will+probe+first+familys+billions?&artid=X2zQlPcQFAE=&SectionID=d16Fdk4iJhE=&MainSectionID=HuSUEmcGnyc=&SectionName=aVlZZy44Xq0bJKAA84nwcg==&SEO=

Mrs Antonia Maino (aka Sonia) Gandhi has finally broken her silence on the Indian slush money abroad. She told her party workers in Mangalore on April 27, 2009 that "the Congress was taking steps to address the issue of untaxed Indian money in Swiss banks". The delayed response of the first family of the Congress party, troubled by the issue from the word go, is understandable. But, the Swiss money has already become an electoral issue. That is what has finally forced the family to speak so that the party is not any further seen as being in denial and cynical about the Indian slush funds abroad. It is the family's silence, and the party's denial, that turned the issue into an election agenda. Shorn of the allegations normal in election time, all that L K Advani had said on March 29 was this: 'Mr Prime Minister, vigorously take up the issue of Swiss type secret banking and tax havens in the G20 meeting of April 2'. Had the PM told Advani that that was precisely what he was intending to do, that would have been the end of the BJP effort to make an issue of it. A Congress party, unburdened by its first family's anxieties, would have done precisely that, particularly when elections are round the corner. But neither the PM nor the party officials would dare do that. Why? Read on for the underlying drives.

The first family has other, perhaps bigger, reasons to worry, apart from about the Bofors slush money. Two more stunning exposures - but not as well-known as the Bofors scam - make the first family a target for investigation on slush money. Now on to the heart of the story which has three limbs.

First: $2.2 billions in Rajiv's secret accounts, says Swiss magazine

The shocking exposure came from Switzerland itself. The most popular magazine of Switzerland, Schweizer Illustrierte, [dated November 11, 1991] did an expose of 14 politicians of developing nations who, it said, had stashed their bribes in Swiss banks. The title of the expose in German read "Fluchgelder - Die Schweizer Konten der Dictatoren". In English it meant, "Curse of money - The Swiss bank accounts of the Dictators". Rajiv Gandhi figured in the expose as one with slush funds in secret accounts. Schweizer Illustrierte is not some rag. It is the Number One Swiss magazine and sells some 2,10,000 copies. Its readership is 9,18,000 - some 15 per cent of Swiss adults. The magazine had mentioned specific amounts in secret Swiss accounts of different leaders with their pictures alongside.

The report under the picture of Rajiv Gandhi, translated into English, read: "2.5 billion francs on the Indian secret accounts in Switzerland" of "Rajiv Gandhi, Indian". Today the amount of 2.5 billion Swiss Francs equals 2.2 billion US Dollars. But as Rajiv was no more by then, it must become the family inheritance. The other leaders captured by the magazine were: Suharto of Indonesia (25.5 billion), Haile Selassie of Ethiopia (22.5 billion), Mobutu of Zaire (6 billion), Shah Pehlvi of Iran (5.7 billion), Saddam Hussein of Iraq (800 million), and Nicolas Ceausescu of Romania (500 million). The figures of slush money mentioned were in milliarden (meaning 'billions') units of Swiss Francs. Had Rajiv been alive then, the expose would have caused a political tsunami in India.

The box item above shows the pictures and the amounts of the leaders as appearing in the magazine.

More than the slush money charge it is the family's silence about it, which is baffling. The number one magazine in Switzerland had made the damning charge that Rajiv Gandhi had left behind slush funds of $2.2 billion and yet the family has kept mum for 18 years now. How could any honest person tolerate such a serious charge? Well, one could say that the family might not have challenged it because it was published in far away Switzerland. But Dr Subramanian Swamy had included the Schweizer Illustrierte expose in his write-up "Do You know your Sonia?" in his party, the Janata Party, website, seven years ago, in 2002. It is still on the Party's website. Photocopies of the expose in the Swiss magazine are shown at pages 51 to 53 of Dr Swamy's write-up; also an e-mail from the magazine addressed to Dr Swamy on February 22, 2002 at page 50. The e-mail confirms what the magazine had reported.

The e-mail reads:

"Dear sir,

We refer to your e-mail of April 4, regarding an article in our magazine Schweizer Illustrierte of November 11, 1991. In this article - Fluchgelder - Die Schweizer Konten der Dictatoren - is Rajiv Gandhi named with tot 2.5 Milliarden CHF on secret accounts. If you want the magazine please indicate the exact address.

Yours faithfully,

Ringer Ltd.

Margot Todisco".

The fax and telephone numbers of Margot Todisco are also given in the mail. The e-mail is in box alongside here. Yet no one from the Congress or from the family has sued Dr Swamy till date, nor challenged him. The Swiss expose also prominently figured in the advertisement that some NRIs had put out in the New York Times to protest against Sonia Gandhi when she visited the US in the year 2007. The Indian National Overseas Congress (INOC) filed a defamation case against the ad, expressly "not to defend itself, but Sonia Gandhi". The New York Supreme Court dismissed the case holding that only Sonia Gandhi, not the INOC, had the locus to sue. But she would not dare sue. Thus, neither in Switzerland where Schweizer Illustrierte exposed Rajiv's secret account with billions 18 years ago in 1991, nor in India where Dr Swamy had put it on his party's website seven years ago in 2002, or in the US where the NRIs had boldly advertised the expose two years ago in 2007, would the Gandhi family challenge the expose.

In criminal law the conduct of the accused is an important piece of evidence. What does the family's conduct show here excepting that it has something to hide.

Second: family benefited from KGB, says book

The second expose, Rajiv Gandhi figuring again, is that the first family of the Congress accepted political payoffs from the Russian spy outfit, the KGB. In a highly acclaimed book The State Within a State: The KGB and Its Hold on Russia-Past, Present, and Future by Yevgenia Albats, a journalist on Moscow News and Izvestia, the author writes: "A letter signed by Victor Chebrikov, who replaced Andropov as the KGB head in 1982, noted: the USSR KGB maintains contact with the son of the Premier Minister Rajiv Gandhi (of India). R Gandhi expresses deep gratitude for the benefits accruing to the prime minister's family from the commercial dealings of the firm he controls in co-operation with the Soviet Foreign trade organisations. R Gandhi reports confidentially that a substantial portion of the funds obtained through this channel are used to support the party of R Gandhi." (p223) The author also cites the KGB letter and file reference. In Dr Swamy's write-up on Sonia, KGB's letter in Russian is attached at page 45 and its English translation at pages 43 and 44.

The letter says that Rajiv Gandhi himself has admitted that "benefits" accrued to "the prime minister's family" from commercial dealings through Russian co-operation. All major newspapers, The Hindu and Times of India included, had carried the expose on KGB payments. The book State within a State on KGB was published in 1994.

Yet, no one from the Gandhi family has challenged it for 15 years now. Dr Swamy had included it in his expose on Sonia on his party's website since 2002. Yet the family has not challenged him or sued him for seven years. It was again made part of the NRI advertisement in New York Times in 2007 when Sonia Gandhi visited the US.

Even then only a proxy case was filed to defend Sonia Gandhi's reputation which was promptly saying only Sonia could defend her honour, which she would not.

Third: Bofors slush payoff to 'Q'

Ottavio Quottrocchi, the star actor in the Bofors scam, is indistinguishable from Sonia's family. His association with the family is as old as Sonia's.

Even Sonia Gandhi cannot dispute that Q got the first instalment of $7.3 million out of the total bribe of $36.5 million (Three per cent of the contract value of $1.2 billion) due to his front company for swinging the gun deal for Bofors. The slush money of $7.3 million was traced to Q's account by the CBI which got it frozen some 20 years ago. But when the law was closing in on Q in early 1990s, the Congress government stealthily allowed him to escape from India. He turned fugitive, but his slush money had continued to remain frozen.

Sten Lindstorm, the Swedish police official who investigated the Bofors case for 18 years, wrote an article in 2004, saying that Sonia should be interrogated in the Bofors case, particularly on her family's relations with Q, on who introduced Q to Bofors and why did Bofors pay him for deal with India. This article had appeared in several media in India. Subsequently, the CBI, obviously under pressure, quietly allowed Q to smuggle away his slush money from the frozen account.

The UPA was in power then, with Sonia Gandhi as chairperson of the National Advisory Council and also of the UPA. Could this happen unless she had wanted it? She owes an answer to the nation. But, far from answering any question, she asked the media, as early as in 1999, to show evidence against Q, when the most clinching evidence, the loot caught in Q's frozen account, had fixed him conclusively.

Yet, she defended him even after the Swiss court once, the Delhi High court twice and the Supreme Court finally held him part of the Bofor's fraud. And now, in the final days of its rule, her government has shamelessly let Q off the hook by removing his name from global red alert. Because of the red alert he was always in danger of being caught and sent to India. Now that's off. This move to free Q seems to be linked to the slush money issue rising in crescendo in this election. It seems to be in the larger interests of the family - she has to protect 'Q', if he has to protect the family. Otherwise just before elections no government will take the unpopular decision of freeing Q from India's legal net abroad.

QED: It does not need a seer to say that the first family of the Congress party is a suspect; a target for probe.

Who will probe its billions? Rahul Gandhi has told an election rally in Hyderabad, "elect us, we will investigate".

If that happens, the suspects will probe themselves!

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