Louis Berger case: Opposition questions Goa government motive

Panaji, July 22 (IANS) As the Congress and AAP in Goa on Wednesday said the BJP-led government had much to hide in the Louis Berger bribery case, the state police Crime Branch probing the matter searched the offices of a foreign-funded project and seized many documents.

The government’s sudden decision to opt for a Crime Branch probe over a CBI investigation to get to the bottom of the $976,630 bribery controversy “showed it was trying to manipulate the investigation process”, the state Congress and Aam Aadmi Party here said.

“The fact that the government preferred a Goa Police Crime Branch probe over the CBI investigation shows that it has something to hide, especially in relation to the Mopa greenfield airport deal,” Congress spokesperson Durgadas Kamat said.

A top police official said on Wednesday he was convinced about corruption in the 2010 water and sewerage project involving the US-based consultancy firm, a Goa minister and others.

Louis Berger was also hired by the BJP-led coalition government around 2013 as a technical consultant for the upcoming airport.

The AAP, meanwhile, questioned both Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar and Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar for the manner in which they reacted to the bribery allegations.

“If Parrikar had specific information about the Louis Berger corruption case as an opposition leader, why did he as the chief minister not do anything about it? Does not the act of withholding information about a multi-crore corruption case amount to an act of corruption itself,” AAP leader Valmiki Naik asked while talking to the media.

Parrikar said on July 19 that two ministers were involved in the case and that the deal was struck at a bungalow in south Goa. Parsekar gave a “clean chit” last week to Louis Berger, insisting only the firm’s officials were corrupt.

Top officials of Louis Berger have pleaded guilty to offering bribes of $3.9 million to secure contracts in 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, documents reveal that $976,630 was paid in bribes in 2009-10 to a Goa minister and other officials.

Former Goa chief minister Digambar Kamat and former public works department minister Churchill Alemao could come within the ambit of the bribery investigation, informed sources said. Both Kamat and Alemao have denied involvement.

Louis Berger was part of a consortium that eventually won a contract to execute a multi-billion dollar water and sewerage project in Goa, funded by Japan International Co-Operation Agency (JICA).

Another technical consultancy project given to Louis Berger by the BJP-led coalition government in Goa in 2013 to help construct a greenfield airport at Mopa worth several million dollars is also under a cloud now.

Meanwhile, the Crime Branch – which filed a First Information Report on Tuesday against “some ministers” and Louis Berger under the anti-corruption law and the Indian Penal Code – on Wednesday searched the offices of the water and sewage management project funded by JICA.

“Several documents related to the project, including project report and minutes of meeting related to tender negotiations, were seized,” police source said.

Inspector General of Police (IGP) Sunil Garg expressed confidence in the investigation, claiming that police had no doubt about corruption in the deal.

“Corruption has been proved by the US judicial proceedings. So there is no doubt. That has been established at the international level also, so corruption is there,” the police officer said.

“We have to ascertain who all are involved in this case,” Garg said, not ruling out involvement of more than one (then) minister in the case and issuing summons to the tainted officials of the US-based company.

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