New Delhi, May 01: 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.
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.