//US judge detains former UN official from India in bribery case

US judge detains former UN official from India in bribery case

Reuters, Friday, 2 February 2007

NEW YORK: A federal judge revoked the bail of a former UN purchasing official charged with steering more than $US50 million ($NZ74.29 million) in contracts to Indian firms, deeming him a risk to flee the country.

US District Judge Denise Cote rejected Sanjay Bahel's prior bail package that included two luxury Manhattan apartments he put up as security when he was freed on a $US900,000 bond in November.

Prosecutors charge the apartments were sold to Bahel at far below market value by co-defendant Nishan Kohli in return for the UN contracts.

Cote agreed with Assistant US Attorney Jacob Buchdahl that Bahel, 55, was a risk to flee because he was fired from his UN post in December and had family and friends in India.

Bahel, an Indian who was head of the UN commodity procurement wing from 1998 to 2003, faces a maximum of 10 years in prison if convicted. He pleaded not guilty in November. Kohli, a Miami businessman, pleaded guilty in December to bribery and is cooperating with the government.

Bahel's lawyer, Richard Herman, said his client still had a special status given to foreign UN officials. "Since December until now, there has been absolutely no change in circumstance nor increase in flight risk," Herman said.

UN spokesman Farhan Haq said Bahel was dismissed by the world body on December 23. He said the information on his dismissal was included in a monthly report for January that would go to the US Mission to the United Nations shortly.

Cote also denied a bail package proposed by Herman on Thursday that consisted of $US350,000 in equity in a New Jersey house owned by a friend of Bahel and $US200,000 in cash from his son.

Bahel's trial, originally scheduled for May 7, could now begin as soon as March 5, Cote said.

According to federal prosecutor Michael Garcia, Bahel in 2000 or earlier granted "exceptional access" to Kohli, with information on bidding.

On occasion, Bahel "even canceled bids by competing companies and rebid contracts" to give Kohli's business interests a competitive advantage, Garcia alleged in the bribery indictment.

Kohli secured a number of contracts for the Indian government-owned Telecommunications Consultants India Ltd, the indictment said.

The indictment added that Kohli purchased the two condominium units at the Dag Hammarskjold Towers, a few blocks from the UN compound, for $US1.24 million ($NZ1.84 million) in 2003 and provided them to Bahel and his family for two years at greatly reduced rent or no rent at all.

In 2005, Kohli sold the units to Bahel for less than $US1.2 million, $US700,000 below market value, the indictment alleged.