Louis Berger case: Ex-minister held, CM says no political interference

Panaji, Aug 6 (IANS) As former PWD minister Churchill Alemao cried political vendetta after his arrest in the Louis Berger bribe case, Goa Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar on Thursday ruled out political interference and said he was open to a CBI probe.

Former chief minister Digambar Kamat secured interim bail till August 7 from a local court while the former public works department minister Alemao was remanded in four-day police custody earlier on Thursday.

“It’s a political game. They are harassing me. I said will come (to the Crime Branch) anytime but they still arrested me. I am innocent. I have not robbed anything. Why should I confess or apply for anticipatory bail,” Alemao said outside a special anti-corruption court in Panaji.

Police said Alemao, arrested late Wednesday night, is one of the recipients of the $976,630 bribe paid by officials of the New Jersey-based consultancy firm in 2010, in order to secure implementation rights for a Rs.1,031-crore water and sewage management project funded by the Japan International Co-operation Agency (JICA).

Alemao, a former minister in the Congress-led coalition government in 2010, was booked under Prevention of Corruption Act and section 120-B of the Indian Penal Code.

Director of JICA-funded project, Anand Wachasundar, and former India head of Louis Berger, Satyakam Mohanty, have already been arrested in the case.

Defending Kamat, leader of the opposition, Pratapsing Rane, accused the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led coalition government of targeting opposition politicians.

“The Portuguese rule was better than this. This is selective targeting of the opposition to silence it,” Rane said.

The government, however, ruled out political interference in the case.

“People will not accept the charge of political vendetta. It is just a case of law taking its own course. The police is doing good investigation,” Parsekar said, not ruling out the transfer of the case to the Central Bureau of Investigation in future, “if necessary”.

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 during 2009-2010 to a Goa minister and other officials.

Louis Berger was part of a consortium that eventually won a contract to execute a multi-billion dollar water and sewerage project in Goa, which was cleared in 2010 by a Congress-led coalition government.

Police allege that Digambar Kamat, chief minister in 2010, and his minister Alemao were paid the bribe. Kamat has already been questioned twice by the Crime Branch.

In a statement, Louis Berger said the bribe was paid by rogue company officials, who have since been sacked.

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