BACKGROUNDThere are four Hinduja brothers: Srichand, Gopichand, Prakash, and Ashok, the youngest, who stays in Bombay. Srichand is head of the Hinduja Group. Like a traditional Indian family, when in London the generations all live together in a suite of flats in Carlton House Terrace, off The Mall. There are also homes in New York's Trump Tower, in Washington and Geneva.
|Srichand, Gopichand and Prakash Hinduja control a multi-billion pound international business empire based in London. They own companies registered in the Bahamas, Panama, Liberia, Liechtenstein, Singapore and Luxembourg. Both Srichand and Gopichand live in London, Prakash in Switzerland. They are Britain's richest Asians worth an estimated £1.3 billion. Their business empire was built up by their father, Parmanand Deepchand Hinduja, who died in 1971, and they are aided in the businesses by their own sons, Sanjay, Ajay, Ramkrishan and Dheeraj.|
Their business empire includes Gulf Oil International, cable networks, chemicals and pharmaceuticals interests. Gulf Oil Trading Company (or Gotco) is run largely by Gopichand from London and used to have links with the former Saudi oil minister, Sheikh Yamani. Some of their business operations are shrouded in secrecy, particularly the links with Iran. Srichand handled the family's trading business in Tehran, where the group really built the foundations of its empire. The brothers did a flourishing trade in textiles, sugar and tea reportedly making its millions selling potatoes and onions to the Shah of Iran among other things - rumours persist that large chunks of their fortune came from gunrunning. Since then they have switched to metals, machinery and fertilisers, although there is bewilderment that they managed to build up such vast riches on such run-of-the-mill businesses. The group took over Ashok Leyland (ALL) in 1987 as their flagship business, however it has recently hit got into trouble and has announced that it is to cut 1,000 - 1,500 jobs over the next two years from its current workforce of 13,600.
They recently attempted to buy Express newspapers for £100m, but were pipped to the post by Richard Desmond. The Hindujas were part of a consortium budding to take control of Air India when it was privatised. A decision is due in July on whether the two remaining bidders (the Hinduja consortium and Singapore Airlines/Tata Group) meet their minimum requirements. The Hinduja bid was put forward jointly by their Madras-based bus-maker Ashok Leyland and a subsidiary of Germany's Lufthansa. Analysts expect the bid by Singapore Airlines/Tata Group to win.Readers of these pages will know them because they donated £1 million to the Dome's Faith Zone. The money came via the Hinduja Foundation, which funds health and cultural projects throughout the world. Before the Dome, their most famous cause in Britain was the Hindu temple at Neasden, North London, to which they contributed £250,000. Srichand's "passion" for bringing together the religions of the world springs from a family tragedy - his son Dharam, heir to the family empire, defied their wishes by marrying a girl outside his faith. The lovers eloped to Mauritius and Dharam later died after apparently setting himself on fire.
THAT FAMOUS BOFORS ARMS SCANDALAt one time, a newspaper or magazine which published words Bofors and Hinduja in the same sentance risked ending up in court. On the 8th November, 2000, the Hindjas served the London-based Asian Age with a writ accusing the newspaper of publishing defamatory statements and seeking an apology. The Hindujas had already obtained apologies from various British newspapers with regard to reports on the Bofors case in which they are accused. The Hinduja's solicitors, Schilling and Lom and Partners, said in a press statement that the Asian Age had published numerous "false and defamatory statements" about the Hinduja brothers over a protracted period of time. Still, that type of thing doesn't scare us here at Not The Millennium Dome, so here goes .....
It all began on 14th March, 1986 when Former Indian PM Rajiv Ghandi's government signed a contract with a Swedish defence manufacturer called A B Bofors. The deal was to purchase 400 188mm Howitzer guns for the Indian Army and was worth around £950 million ($1.4 billion). About a year later, allegations broke on Swedish radio that massive bribes were paid by Bofors to Indian politicians and beaurocrats prior to the award of the contract. Rajiv Gandhi denied any involvement in the bribes, however the allegations against the Indian government continued with the resignations of two of the Rajiv's aides, Finance Minister Vishwanath Pratap Singh and Defence Minster Arun Singh. A joint parliamentary report submitted a year later, and another report the year after that, by the Comptroller Accounts General (CAG) was described as a whitewash of Ghandi's role in the scandal. The Indian Opposition resigned enmasse from the Lok Sabha on 26th July, 1989 in protest and this set in motion the campaign which resulted in the defeat of the Rajiv Gandhi's government in national elections at the end of the year. The Janata-Dal party won and barred Bofors from entering into any contract with India. It also began to investigate the case, however this was overtaken by political events of one sort or another and the case was buried until the end of 1991 when a Swedish journalist published a sensational report giving fresh details about the arms deal. The scandal continued to dog successive Indian governments particularly after the Swiss courts, in 1993, ordered the release of the details of secret Swiss bank accounts in which the Bofors bribes were alleged to have paid. Finally, in January, 1997, the first lot of secret Swiss bank documents were handed over to India. Almost immediately afterwards, the CBI constituted a Special Investigative Team to investigate and proceeded to question key army generals in charge when the deal was signed. In February, 1997, the CBI named Italian businessman and close friend of the Gandhi family, Ottavio Quattrochi, his wife Maria, international arms dealer Win Chaddha, his wife Kanta and son Harsh as recipients of Bofors bribes in the Swiss bank accounts. Two days later, the Indian government issued extradition requests to Malaysia and UAE for Quattrochi and Chaddha, who were based in Kuala Lumpur and Dubai. In 2000 the CBI completed the chargesheet and placed it before the Indian Court and on 9th October, charged-sheeted Martin Ardbo, the former Bofors managing director; Win Chadha, its former agent in India; Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi; and SK Bhatnagar, a former Indian civil servant in the Indian Ministry of Defence.Srichand, Gopichand and Prakashchand Hinduja are alledged to have received bribes, totalling 81 million Swedish Kroners (£8 million at currnt worth) to "facilitate" the deal, again into their Swiss bank accounts. However the Hindajus claim that the payments from Bofors were unrelated to the arms deal. The CBI alleges that the Hinduja brothers are believed to be behind secret coded Swiss accounts in the name of Pitco/ Moreso/Moineao and AE Services of the UK. The accounts, codenamed Tulip, Lotus and Mont Blanc by the CBI, belong to McIntyre Corp, based in Panama. The Swiss courts received a report from the international accountants Atag Ernst & Young describing the flow of money. The auditors' report shows that the corporation was controlled by Prakash "P.P." Hinduja, the third eldest of the brothers, who is based in Geneva and is the family's financial expert. The Hindujas have their own Swiss bank, Amas. The auditors concluded on August 30: "According to the documentation received, the ultimate beneficial owner of McIntyre Corp and of all the funds received on the accounts of McIntyre Corp is P.P. Hinduja. The funds were invested by the Hinduja Group for its group companies or transferred to other accounts of the Hinduja Group." The Hindujas have accepted that the money came from Axonobel Group, part of Bofors, but say the family had been involved with them for many years in the supply of chemicals. The Hindujas argue that the cash was part of normal international business dealings known as "global counter trading" and had nothing to do with the Howitzer deal.
On the 1st February, 2001, all three Hinduja brothers were refused permission to leave India whilst the investigation continues. They were said to be disappointed at the decision. After the hearing the Hindujas issued a statement which said: "This is a bad precedent. We are to appeal in the High Court and hope that the Indian judicial system will pass the appropriate orders allowing us to travel." The Indian media said the judge was concerned that the Hindujas might not return once allowed to leave. It was only after receiving a promise that they would not be arrested upon arrival, that the three brothers went to India in January to be questioned by the CBI. Should they be tried and convicted, they face up to seven years in prison.On 27th April, an appeal court in Delhi rejected their appeal. The judge turned down the request on the grounds that there was sufficient reason to believe the brothers may not return when the hearings began. However, he did made one concession. He asked the special court to hold a separate trial for them since no one knows when the other two individuals accused, the Swedish head of Bofors and an Italian businessmen, were going to be extradited to stand trial. On 2nd May, they took their appeal to the Supreme Court in India. By 12th May, the Supreme Court allowed Srichand and Gopichand to return to the UK provided that they provide bank guarantees of 150 million rupees ($3.2 million) bail each. However, they must return by 20th August to face trial and the third brother, Prakash (a Swiss national), was ordered to remain in India to ensure that his two brothers did not renege on the agreement. The court warned that ``if there is any violation of conditions imposed today, it will be open to the Special Judge to pass appropriate orders to cancel the bail of Prakashchand Hinduja''. Thus, Prakashchand Hinduja runs the risk of being jailed if his two brothers do not return or fail to comply with the court order. On 26th May, the court in Delhi paved the way for starting the Bofors trial. A sessions judge (R L Chugh) has separated the trial of the accused present in India, including the Hindujas, from that of Ottavio Quattrocchi and Martin Ardbo, who are still to be extradited to India. Besides the three Hindujas, the other accused who will face the trial include former Indian defence secretary S K Bhatnagar (who is suffering from cancer), Bofors company agent Win Chadha and A B Bofors company (the company's name has since been changed). Those who are yet to be extradited to India are Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi and former Bofors chief Martin Ardbo. Quattrocchi is fighting against the extradition proceedings in the Malaysian high court and the Indian CBI has issued an alert notice against Ardbo. The date of the next hearing has been fixed as July 9, when the scrutiny of documents will take place, and if possible the trial will also start. Judge Chugh said about Quattrocchi and Ardbo, ``There is no prospect in the near future that Quattrocchi's attendance will be obtained as he is resisting his extradition. Ardbo is a Swedish national, who cannot be extradited unless he leaves the Swedish soil and is apprehended by the Interpol.'' With this, Chugh extended the warrants against Quattrocchi and asked the CBI to pursue with the alert notice against Ardbo. Chugh also allowed Prakesh Hinduja's exemption from personal appearance on the next date of hearing. The trial is set to continue for years - all in all, the CBI has 95 witnesses to examine, with about 40 being foreign-based.
THOSE MEETINGS WITH TONY BLAIROn 6th May, 2001 it was revealed that the Hindujas visited Downing Street three years ago in 1998. A leaked letter suggested Gopichand and Srichand Hinduja met Tony Blair in June 1998 around the time one of the brothers was seeking a UK passport. Downing Street said the brothers were part of a delegation sent by the Indian government to discuss bilateral relations and the meeting had nothing to do with passport applications. The letter, addressed to the prime minister's chief of staff Jonathan Powell on 4th June, says the Hinduja brothers would meet Mr Blair later that day with an Indian government official who was carrying a letter from the Indian prime minister. Publicity regarding the Hindujas' meeting with Tony Blair caused questions to be asked in the Indian parliament. The Congress party protested against the manner in which the government had used the Hinduja brothers to facilitate a meeting with Tony Blair. Congress spokesperson S Jaipal Reddy described it as 'shocking' that the Indian government had placed more trust in the owners of a private industrial house than in its own envoys, who were neither informed about the meeting, nor briefed about it later. Reddy said the meeting was not an ordinary commercial transaction but, coming soon after the Indian nuclear blasts, involved a highly sensitive and delicate issue. He said while the external affairs ministry had confirmed that the Hinduja brothers facilitated the meeting with Tony Blair, there were further media reports that the two Hindujas also arranged a meeting between Brajesh Mishra and French president Jacques Chirac. The Congress spokesperson said what was disturbing was that the Hinduja brothers were present during these meetings. In fact, an Iranian national who works with the Hindujas was also present during the meeting with the French president, Reddy claimed. He said the envoys in London and Paris were not present during these discussions and they were not even briefed about the meetings later. 'In the diplomatic history of India, this is unprecedented,' Reddy said, adding that nobody knew as to how much India stood to gain from these `clandestine diplomatic encounters'. So soon after the Indian nuclear tests, and at a time when the Indian government was isolated, the Hindujas had arranged for Mr Mishra, as Mr Vajpayee's envoy, to be given an audience with Tony Blair, and they themselves were present at that meeting. Although no mention was made of this initiative by the Hindujas at the time, it was claimed in the Indian press that Mr Mishra's travels abroad had succeeded in persuading Tony Blair to prevail upon the G-8 leaders not to impose sanctions on India. Now when the facts are known about who arranged the meeting and how, the Hindujas' role should rightly be questioned. By 9th May, Conservative MP for Chichester Andrew Tyrie had published five letters from Tony Blair to the Hindujas, some of which were signed 'Yours ever, Tony'. The Conservatives claimed that this showed that the links between the Government and the Hindujas went "far deeper than we were led to believe". Three of the letters published are signed by Tony Blair and the other two by his chief of staff, Jonathan Powell. They are mainly confined to international relations but in one, addressed to Gopichand Hinduja, Mr Blair says of Keith Vaz: 'It is always a pleasure to appoint people of talent and ability to the government and I have every confidence that Keith will do an excellent job in his very important post at the Lord Chancellor's Department." It was dated 15 June 1999 - a month after Mr Vaz was appointed parliamentary secretary to the Lord Chancellor, before his promotion to the Foreign Office. Mr Tyrie claimed the letters were not released to Sir Anthony Hammond QC, who conducted the passport inquiry that later cleared ministers of any wrongdoing.
GOPICHAND HINDUJA'S PASSPORT Timothy Kirkhope was the Conservative immigration minister who handled the Gopichand Hinduja's passport application and, after losing his seat at the General Election, went on to work for the family as an advisor. Gopichand Hinduja applied for his passport on March 5th, 1997 and received it on November 4th, 1997, after Labour won the election. Timothy Kirkhope started to work as a four-day-a-month consultant to the Hindujas' Sangam business in July 1998, and left their employment in June 1999, when he won a European Parliament seat. He is now Tory chief whip in the European Parliament. A spokesman for the Hindujas insisted he advised them only about water and power projects in India. Mr Kirkhope said: "The work I did for them was essentially and purely linked up to infrastructure issues. I had nothing to do with any of their other interests, such as the Dome."
SRICHAND HINDUJA'S PASSPORT In June 1998, six days after donating £1 million to the Millennium Dome, Srichand Hinduja resubmitted his application for a British passport. Earlier Peter Mandelson, then Minister Without Portfolio and "Dome Minister", had telephoned the Immigration Minister, Mike O'Brian, to ask him whether the passport application could be reconsidered following a change in immigration policy. Initially, Downing Street denied that the, by now, Northern Ireland Secretary had raised the matter with Mike O'Brien, but a spokesman for Tony Blair (aka Alistair Campbell) later admitted that Mandelson did make the call on behalf of Srichand Hinduja. There was fresh confusion when Mandelson contradicted Downing Street suggestions he had forgotten the call, saying he simply had not been asked.
On 24th January 2001, Peter Mandelson resigned from his post as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Ironically he has resigned for something which happened prior to his last resignation.
THAT DOME DONATIONSrichand said "I asked: can we do something in the Dome? ... Mandelson started coming to our functions and receptions. He is sharp, decisive and has a good grasp of the issues. Every businessman likes politicians like that".
The Times newspaper reported that the Hindujas paid no value added tax on the £1 million they provided to sponsor the Faith Zone. This saved them £175,000 in tax. The brothers argued strongly that, as a religious donation, it should be tax exempt. This could only be done if they received no benefits from the sponsorship. The New Millennium Experience Company wrote to the Hindujas saying that they would be getting 1,000 free tickets to the Dome, as a gift. The tickets were worth £20,000. The sponsorship was arranged after the Hindujas were invited to the House of Lords by Lord Levy, Tony Blair's tennis partner and personal envoy to the Middle East. The brothers were prepared to offer £3 million but were asked for only £1 million. At the end of the meeting, Lord Levy hugged Srichand Hinduja.
THAT FAMOUS DIWALI PARTY
|Enjoying the trappings of their success is a favourite pastime for the Hinduja's and when they hired Alexandra Palace for their lavish party for 3,000 guests to celebrate the Indian festival of Diwali in November 1999, Tony Blair was guest of honour. Cherie dressed up for the occasion with a jewel in her forehead and wearing a gift from Srichand Hinduja, an Indian churidar kameez made of silk and organza, chosen by Srichand's daughter from the collection of Nita Lulla, one of the best Indian designers in Britain.|
Peter Mandelson, who had been Minister for the Millennium Dome at the time that the Hindujas offered £3 million to save the Faith Zone, grinned broadly as he joined in the festivities. Keith Vaz, former Minister for Europe and a long-standing associate of the Hinduja brothers, gave a laudatory speech. Other guests included Lord Archer of Weston-super-Mare, then a London mayoral candidate. The Hindujas were in their element. The audience sparkled with their fellow billionaires. The powerful and famous were paid homage on a night hosted by the brothers from Bombay. At that famous Diwali party, the Hindujas were surrounded by their network of influential friends, but there was one notable absentee: the Indian High Commission did not attend. The snub was seen in Delhi, and in London, as a signal that the indian government was distancing itself from the Hindujas. The Bofors charges followed shortly afterwards.
|The Times newspaper claimed to have seen a copy of a letter from Keith Vaz, a Foreign Office Minister, written when the MP was a backbencher, sent to the Hinduja Foundation, in which Mr Vaz apparently asks the Hindujas to draft a letter which he would then send to Tony Blair. "We agreed that you would prepare a draft letter which I would send both to the Prime Minister and to Peter Mandelson", Mr Vaz wrote on October 30, 1997. "I have no problem with asking these points, but as I made clear to you, you will need to do the preparatory work. I will then top and tail the letters and send them out."|
It has been suggested that the Hinduja's letter to Tony Blair decrying the fact that there were no Asian ministers in the early days of the Government help secure Keith Vaz's promotion, but we are sure this cannot be the case. Keith Vaz so obviously got where he was on his own merit.
The Dome. One Amazing Day. One Year Only. Thank God.