The Delhi High Court today threw out bribery charges against the wealthy, London-based Hinduja brothers, in the long-running case involving kickbacks and commissions in India’s purchase of howitzers from Sweden’s defunct Bofors company.
Justice RS Sodhi said the Central Bureau of Investigation, an investigating and prosecuting agency that handles big and complicated cases, had made a technical error and could refile the charges once it corrected the fault.
British citizens Srichand and Gopichand Hinduja, and Prakash Hinduja, who is Swiss, have been charged with accepting dlrs 8.3 million (£5.5 million) in illegal commissions from the defunct Swedish arms maker, Bofors AB in a 1986 deal to sell artillery guns to the Indian army.
The brothers have denied that the money Bofors paid into their Swiss bank accounts was a kickback for brokering the gun deal, but they have refused to explain the purpose of the money.
Commissions in defence deals are outlawed in India and the maximum prison term is seven years in prison.
It was not immediately known whether the Hinduja brothers would be allowed to travel freely outside India.
RK Anand, one of their lawyers, said arguments on that point were still taking place in the courtroom.
For more than a year, since they voluntarily came to answer questions in the investigation, the courts have required one of the Hindujas to remain in India, standing surety for the other two as they travel to oversee their business empire.
The judge agreed with the Hindujas that the investigation bureau incorrectly failed to seek consent from the government-appointed Central Vigilance Commission, which oversees the course of corruption cases.
The judge criticised the bureau for failing to carry out its duty, and the vigilance commission for not pointing out the error.