//U.N. accuses Indian official of corruption

U.N. accuses Indian official of corruption

NICK WADHAMS

Associated Press

UNITED NATIONS – A United Nations investigation has concluded that a U.N. official took kickbacks such as low-cost apartments for steering lucrative contracts to a company from his native India.

The investigation claimed that Sanjaya Bahel, who was formally an official in the Indian government when he was working for the U.N. under contract, used his relationship with a wealthy Indian businessman and his son to steer the deals to the company they represented, Telecommunications Consultants India Ltd.

The confidential report detailing the investigation's findings found Bahel refused to act on complaints that the company denied payment to employees in peacekeeping missions worldwide despite repeated claims they did not have enough money to eat. The report was shown to The Associated Press.

Bahel vehemently denied the claims and said the U.N. only notified him of them Thursday.

"To me, the allegations are not correct," he told the AP. "I have good reasoning and valid reasoning to counter those."

In the report, TCIL acknowledged "some responsibility for the severe problems" in contracts with the U.N. and blamed the Indian businessmen Bahel had contact with, Nanak Kohli, and his son Nishan Kohli. Neither man could immediately be reached for comment.

According to the report, Bahel had a longtime relationship with the Kohlis, who were on the guest list for his son's 2002 wedding. In 2003, Bahel rented two side-by-side New York apartments from them at rates well below the market and later bought the apartments, where he now lives, at a favorable price, it said.

J.L. Kachru, general manager of TCIL, said the company does not have any contact with Bahel.

"We haven't heard anything from the United Nations so far," he said.

The allegations spelled out in the report are the latest in a string of claims of fraud in the procurement department, which is responsible for awarding millions of dollars in contracts to do business with the U.N. worldwide. Details were also reported in Friday's editions of the Italian business newspaper Il Sole 24 Oro.

Bahel was chief of commodity procurement for the U.N. from 1998-2003. From 1999-2004, TCIL received more than $100 million in U.N. contracts, the report said.

It claimed that Bahel ignored evidence that TCIL wrongly withheld money from employees sent to U.N. peacekeeping missions in places such as Liberia, Congo and Kosovo to do communications work. While the workers claimed they were only getting a pittance – sometimes as little as $5 for daily expenses – the money enriched another company associated with the Indian businessman and his son.

After learning the details of Bahel's case were about to be made public, the U.N. issued a statement through spokesman Stephane Dujarric on Thursday that it had suspended an unidentified male staffer and charged him with misconduct. Bahel confirmed to the AP late Thursday that he was that staffer.

Dujarric said the staffer is now being given an opportunity to respond, which is an essential element in the U.N.'s system of internal justice.

"Evidence in this case has also been shared with the prosecutorial authorities of the host country," he said.

A U.N. diplomat confirmed the evidence was shared with the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, which has been investigating allegations of fraud in the procurement office for several months. The diplomat spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the case. A spokeswoman for the prosecutor had no immediate comment.

Navtej Sarna, spokesman for the Indian Ministry of External Affairs, said he was not aware of Bahel's suspension or the allegations against him and would look into it before making any comment.

Bahel could face charges including wire fraud and conspiracy.

The report was compiled by the Procurement Task Force, formed in January to pursue allegations of fraud in the procurement department. Many of the claims arose in the wake of the U.N. Oil for Food scandal.

The father and son refused to speak with the task force.