Goa Crime Branch begins probe into Louis Berger bribery

Panaji, July 20 (IANS) The Goa Police Crime Branch on Monday started its probe into the $976,630 international bribery scandal involving New Jersey-based consultancy firm Louis Berger, Congress politicians and officials.

The ruling BJP in Goa sought blacklisting of the firm, while the Congress demanded questioning of Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar by investigators for his utterances about the scandal.

On a day of hectic developments, state Bharatiya Janata Party president Vinay Tendulkar said a party delegation would meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Rajnath Singh to formally demand a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into the bribery scandal.

An activist also filed a complaint with the central probe agency, alleging that more Goa ministers and officials were bribed by the consultancy firm in connection with two other projects.

“I have spoken to the director general of police and asked him to direct the Crime Branch to conduct the initial probe on the basis of which we will approach the CBI,” Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar said.

Director General of Police T.N. Mohan told reporters a Crime Branch team was formed and documents related to the bribe would be obtained soon.

Top officials of Louis Berger have already pleaded guilty to offering bribes to the tune of $3.9 million to secure contracts in Asian countries like India, Vietnam, Indonesia and Kuwait.

While the settlement announced by the US Justice Department did not identify the politicians and officials who were offered bribes, the documents revealed that the amount of $976,630 in bribes was paid during 2009-2010 to a Goa minister and other officials.

Former Goa chief minister Digambar Kamat and former Public Works Department minister Churchill Alemao could also come into the ambit of the bribery investigation, sources said. Both Kamat and Alemao have denied the allegation.

Louis Berger was part of a consortium that eventually won a contract to execute a water and sewerage project in Goa.

The BJP, which has been at the receiving end over the last few days over a string of maladministration and graft cases, on Monday turned the heat on the Congress over the bribery scandal.

“Goa has been defamed internationally because of this bribery scam. BJP MPs from Goa will not only raise this issue in parliament, but we will also meet the prime minister and home minister to demand a CBI probe,” Tendulkar said.

Asked whether the BJP in Goa would seek blacklisting of Louis Berger, which is also linked to two other projects funded by the state government, Tendulkar said: “Yes. We will.”

While the BJP announced its intention to file a complaint with the CBI, Kashinath Shetye, a Right to Information (RTI) activist, on Monday filed a complaint with the agency demanding a probe into three projects secured by the consultancy firm in the state.

The Congress, meanwhile, in an attempt to brazen it out, dared the BJP to launch a CBI probe.

“Let the probe happen. We are not scared of anything,” Congress spokesperson Aleixo Reginaldo said, and demanded that Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar should be questioned because of utterances made by him at a party meeting in Goa on Sunday.

“The defence minister said he knows the bungalow in which the scam deal was struck. The investigating agency should first question him about it,” Reginaldo said.

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