Louis Berger bribery case nets first politician

Panaji, Aug 6 (IANS) Former Goa PWD minister Churchill Alemao became the first politician to be arrested in connection with the Louis Berger bribery case late Wednesday, even as former chief minister Digambar Kamat secured interim bail earlier yesterday.

Alemao’s arrest, under the Prevention of Corruption Act, is expected to create ripples during the ongoing monsoon session of the Goa legislative assembly, in which the opposition, the Congress party, is already on the backfoot ever since Kamat and Alemao came in the ambit of the alleged bribery charge.

Alemao, police claim, is one of the recipients of the $976,630 bribe paid by Louis Berger officials in 2010, in order to secure implementation rights for a Rs.1,031 crore worth water and sewage management project funded by the Japan International Co-operation Agency (JICA).

Alemao was in the past detained under the National Security Act and was also accused of trampling on the Indian tricolour in the 1990s.

Two people, including the director of the JICA-funded project Anand Wachasundar and former India head of Louis Berger Satyakam Mohanty have already been arrested by the Crime Branch, while police sources claim that Kamat’s arrest is also on the cards.

“We have secured evidence against Kamat and Alemao. We have arrested Alemao on the basis of evidence we have secured from former Louis Berger officials,” a senior police official who is a part of the Crime Branch investigation team said late Wednesday.

Last month, top officials of Louis Berger pleaded guilty to a New Jersey District Court to offering bribes of $3.9 million to secure contracts in countries such as 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 $976,630 was paid in bribes during 2009-2010 to a Goa minister and other officials.

Police allege that Kamat, chief minister in 2010 and Alemao his cabinet minister, were the politicians who were paid off. Louis Berger in a statement said that the bribe was paid by rogue company officials, who have been sacked since.

Louis Berger was part of a consortium that eventually won a contract to execute a multi-billion dollar water and sewerage project in Goa worth Rs.1,031 crore funded by the Japan International Co-Operation Agency (JICA), which was cleared in 2010 by a Congress-led coalition government.

Kamat has claimed that he is being targeted by the ruling BJP-led coalition government.

“If they are trying to unleash selective vengeance, it is dangerous for Goa,” Kamat said on Wednesday.

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