Hindujas unlikely to face charges over Bofors affair

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Indy Politics

The "Arms To India" corruption case against the billionaire Hinduja brothers is too weak to sustain criminal charges, prosecutors have admitted in documents obtained by The Independent.

A letter sent by India's Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) requesting more information from the Swiss authorities raises serious doubts over whether the prosecution of Srichand and Gopichand Hinduja, both British citizens, will ever come to trial.

The brothers must return to India by 20 August to comply with a court order made in connection with allegations that they received bribes from the sale of 400 Swedish guns to the Indian army.

The Indian court has said that it wants to set a trial date as soon as possible if the CBI can frame proper charges.

But the Federal Office for Justice (FOJ) in Switzerland has told the CBI that there is no direct evidence linking illegal payments made by the Swedish arms company Bofors to the Swiss bank accounts belonging to the Hindujas.

According to the Swiss documents, the CBI has now admitted that without more evidence it cannot "sustain a charge sheet" against the Hinduja brothers. And despite the CBI's submission that the Hinduja inquiry is one of the "most important and sensitive criminal cases under investigation" the Swiss have refused a further request to interview officials in connection with the Hinduja bank accounts. The FOJ says the alleged events took place too long ago for the interviews to "prove a valuable means of evidence".

Enemies of the Hindujas have used the Bofors case to create an impression of impropriety around the brothers. It was frequently referred to during the passport scandal that ended in Peter Mandelson's resignation from the Government.

Sir Anthony Hammond's subsequent inquiry showed that although Srichand Hinduja had been granted a British passport after he and his younger brother, Gopichand, had donated £1m to the Millennium Dome project, he found no wrongdoing.

Earlier this month, Downing Street admitted that one of Tony Blair's closest aides had asked Mr Mandelson to contact the Hindujas about funding the Millennium Dome. In 1998, Mr Blair's chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, sent a memo after the Hindujas had written to the Prime Minister saying they were interested in making a donation.

The Bofors case has been hanging over the Hindujas for more than 10 years.