Louis Berger case: ‘Hawala dealer’ held, Goa Congress slams CM

Panaji, Aug 7 (IANS) The Goa Police Crime Branch probing the Louis Berger bribe case on Friday arrested an alleged hawala operator, as a special court extended former chief minister Digambar Kamat’s interim bail till August 12.

The Enforcement Directorate filed an Enforcement Case Information Report (ECIR) on Friday against unnamed Goa ministers in the bribe case while the opposition Congress launched a scathing attack on Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar, accusing him of unleashing the “Gestapo” on opposition politicians.

The opposition charge comes against the backdrop of Kamat’s bail travails and the arrest of former Congress minister Churchill Alemao, both of whom have been accused of receiving $976,630 in bribe in 2010 from Louis Berger officials, along with other state government officials.

The day began on a low for the Crime Branch, after a special anti-corruption court extended Kamat’s interim bail till August 12.

Kamat, who has been questioned on two occasions in connection with the Louis Berger bribe case, applied for anticipatory bail on August 5.

Kamat, along with former PWD minister Churchill Alemao and other government officials, has been accused of allegedly accepting $976,630 in bribe in 2010 from officials of the US-based consultancy firm to secure implementation rights of a multi-billion dollar water and sewerage project in Goa, worth Rs.1,031 crore and funded by the Japan International Co-Operation Agency (JICA), which was cleared in 2010 by a Congress-led coalition government.

Soon after the setback in the special court, police arrested Raichand Soni, an alleged hawala dealer known to shuttle between Goa and Dubai and whose services were allegedly used in 2010 by Louis Berger officials to transfer the bribe money to the then Public Works Department minister Churchill Alemao and the then chief minister Digambar Kamat.

“Soni had been summoned earlier, but he was in Dubai. He was arrested on arrival in Goa,” Crime branch sources said, adding that the bribe was paid in parts and then the money was channelled from the US to Goa via Dubai.

The money was allegedly delivered at the residence of Kamat and Alemao, police have said.

Both Kamat and Alemao have denied receiving any money to finalise the consultancy deal.

Anand Wachasundar, director of the JICA-funded project, and Satyakam Mohanty, the former India head of Louis Berger, have already been arrested by the Crime Branch investigating the case.

The pay-offs came to the fore after revelations in the US Justice Department proceedings that Indian politicians and bureaucrats had been paid off by Louis Berger officials to seal the deal.

US Justice department documents however withheld the names of the bribed Indians, even as the Goa Director General of Police T.N. Mohan said that contact had been established with the US officials through proper channels to gain access to the names.

The Enforcement Directorate, in a statement issued here, said an ECIR in connection with the case was filed, after careful perusal of the FIR filed by the Crime Branch.

The Louis Berger scam echoed in the ongoing monsoon session of the Goa assembly as well, with the Leader of the Opposition Pratapsingh Rane accusing Parsekar of “unleashing the Gestapo”, a feared secret police unit in Nazi Germany.

“Is this democracy, or is this a Gestapo? The government should stop providing this kind of information or spreading rumours. If we believe in the democratic values of this country, then this should stop,” Rane said, accusing the Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition government of “character assassination” of legislators.

Rebutting Rane’s allegations, the chief minister said: “Tell me one instance when I have named any politician in the case. Police are investigating and I have given them a free hand, with no interference.”

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