//UN official favoured friend

UN official favoured friend

Chidanand Rajghatta


WASHINGTON: Sanjay Bahel, arrested in a bribery case at the UN, has been in the eye of a storm at the world body for some months now in investigations arising from the oil-for-food scandal.

A mid-level government official who joined the UN system in the 1990s and rose to head its commodity procurement section in Turtle Bay, Bahel is charged by the US authorities of consistently favouring the Kohlis, described as family friends, at the expense of other legitimate bids.

In return, according to the US indictment, Nishan Kohli bought two side-by-side apartments in midtown Manhattan's Dag Hammarsjold Building in 2003 on East 47th street and provided it to Bahel and Bahel's family rent-free for some months, and a reduced rent of $5,000 per month (against a market price of $86,000) for two years.

In May 2005, Bahel bought the apartments from Kohli for $1.2 million, a price so substantially below market value (estimated at $2 million) that the condominium board considered exercising its right of first refusal to block the sale, the indictment said.

The indictment by the US attorney-general's office follows an internal investigation by the UN that lasted months, and which concluded that Bahel had used his position in the procurement division to steer contracts to Nanak Kohli, who is described as the designated US-based representative of Telecommunications Consultants India Ltd (TCIL) for dealing with the UN, and his son Nitin Kohli of Thunderbird Industries.

The contracts involved purchase of equipment such as radio communications material, computers and technology support for UN operations worldwide.

The procurement division spends a large chunk of the UN budget, much of it bankrolled by the US. The procurement division's annual budget is said to be more than $1 billion.