WITH the Bofors investigations in full swing, the role of the Bachchan brothers—Amitabh and Ajitabh—has once again become a matter of intense speculation among CBI officials. Not even the fact that the duo actually managed to get a certificate from Bofors to the effect that they were not recipients of kickbacks has deterred some officials from saying that at least one of the two brothers, Ajitabh, could throw light on the deal.
But caution remains the key word among investigators. The Bachchan brothers had in fact won an apology from Swedish daily Dagyens Nyeter for alleging that the sixth account, into which the Bofors kickbacks were funnelled from the other five accounts, was actually held by Ajitabh. The matter, however, could turn out to be a lot more complicated than they had initially thought.
The bank papers which have come from Switzerland indicate the presence of some close friends of the then ruling party who held shares in AE Services, now proved to be the conduit for the money received by Gandhi family friend Ottavio Quattro-cchi. According to Swiss laws, a bank account can be held by several persons at different times. Did Ajitabh hold shares in AE Services before pulling out, is a question that is being asked.
But will the CBI put the Bachchans on its hit list, considering that Amitabh played host to Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda in Mumbai last year? Sources say that if almost all the former top Army brass and a clutch of Defence Ministry officers have been questioned, there is not enough ground to leave out the Bachchans, particularly Ajitabh.
A section of the CBI officials are lookinginto what they describe as some puzzling circumstances relating to Ajitabh. He went to Switzerland on a tourist visa on February 20, 1986. On March 26, exactly two days after Bofors got the contract, Ajitabh purchased a flat in the Swiss resort town of Montreux, valued then at Rs 68-85 lakh. When the Indian Express broke the story then, Ajitabh came up with his own version. According to him, though he owned the flat, it was paid for by and belonged to a Swiss national named Nandor Kovacs. Kovacs, said Ajitabh, was the sole director of a Swiss company called Arcopharma, which he claimed had employed him as a consultant on an annual salary of Rs 9 lakh. Ajitabh held that Kovacs had purchased the flat in Ajitabh's name for providing security to him!
Among the people who believed this version hook, line and sinker was the then special director (enforcement), whoput up a note saying that Ajitabh was indeed a non-resident Indian on February 28, 1986, when he went to Switzerland on a tourist visa. This, when Ajitabh's own accountants told the Enforcement Directorate that he started receiving his 'salary' from Arcopharma in September 1986. It did not stop there. Ajitabh returned to India in the intervening months between February and September the same year and started managing his affairs as an NRI and made full use of RBI rules for NRIs. Subsequent charges that Ajitabh actually owned Acropharma were denied, never to be proved. Sources say Ajitabh could be an important link in the chain of events. But can they actually begin questioning the Bachchans?