26/05/2015 1:03 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

President Pranab Mukherjee Says Bofors Scandal Was A Media Trial

ALEXANDER JOE via Getty Images
India's President Pranab Mukherjee speaks during the memorial service of South African former president Nelson Mandela at the FNB Stadium (Soccer City) in Johannesburg on December 10, 2013. Mandela, the revered icon of the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa and one of the towering political figures of the 20th century, died in Johannesburg on December 5 at age 95. AFP PHOTO / ALEXANDER JOE (Photo credit should read ALEXANDER JOE/AFP/Getty Images)

NEW DELHI — President Pranab Mukherjee has raked up one of India's longest-running controversies from the 80s, the alleged kickbacks paid for the supply of Howitzer guns to the Indian army by Swedish gun manufacturer Bofors, during an interview. Mukherjee refused to call the Bofors deal a "scandal" and said no court in India has given a verdict on it.

In an interview with the Swedish daily Dagens Nyhetter at the Rashtrapati Bhawan, ahead of his state visit to Sweden, Mukherjee said "first of all, it is yet to be established that there was a scandal," according to several media reports.

"No Indian court has established it. I was the defence minister of the country long after Bofors, and all my generals certified that this is one of the best guns we are having. Till today, Indian army is using it. The so-called scandal which you talk of, yes, in the media, it was there. There was a media trial. But I'm afraid, let us not be too much carried by publicity," Mukherjee was quoted as saying by Times Of India.

But when Mukherjee was asked if the Bofors scandal was played out in the media, he backtracked and said "I do not know. I'm not describing it, you're putting that word. Don't put that word. What I am saying is that in media it was publicised."

Graft charges led to the collapse of then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi's government in 1989 over the $285 million contract between India and the Swedish arms dealer. Subsequently the government banned middlemen in all defence deals.

But that ruling too was reversed when in 2014 the NDA government brought in a new policy legalizing middlemen in arms purchases.

A court cleared Gandhi's name in 2004, 13 years after his death, but the scandal continued to plague the Congress party.

The CBI never succeeded in extraditing Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi, the main suspect named in the tax order who was a friend of Sonia and Rajiv Gandhi. He died last year.

(With inputs from Reuters)

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