Supreme Court judge Justice AM Khanwilkar on Tuesday rescued himself from hearing the Rs 64-crore Bofors case, PTI reported. Khanwilkar, who was part of a bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, did not provide any reason for opting out of the hearing.

The court said a new bench would be constituted to hear the matter on March 28.

The judges were to hear a petition filed by Bharatiya Janata Party leader Ajay Agarwal against a 2005 Delhi High Court decision quashing all charges against the accused in the Bofors case. In September 2017, the Supreme Court had agreed to hear the appeal.

The Central Bureau of Investigation, which conducted an inquiry into the case, failed to challenge the order within the 90-day period after the Delhi High Court passed the judgement on May 31, 2005. But on February 2 this year, the agency filed an appeal in the top court against the verdict.

The Bofors scandal

The scam dates back to 1980s and 1990s when the Congress was in power with Rajiv Gandhi as the prime minister. The Indian government had signed a $1.4-billion (Rs 9,568 crore approximately) defence deal with Swedish arms manufacturer Bofors for 410 field howitzer guns and a supply contract in March 1986.

In April 1987, the Swedish Radio had claimed that the company paid bribes to senior Indian politicians and Army personnel to secure the deal. Gandhi was also implicated in the case.

In 1990, the CBI registered a First Information Report for criminal conspiracy, cheating and forgery under the Indian Penal Code, as well as for corruption, against Martin Ardbo, who was then the president of Bofors, alleged middleman Win Chadda and the Hinduja brothers. The first chargesheet in the case was filed in 1999. A special CBI court in Delhi had in 2011 discharged Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi in the case.