* US firm Louis Berger expose sparks row in Guwahati & Goa
* Himanta hastens to put himself in the clear, blames officials
The Tarun Gogoi–led government has been making tall claims of transparency and probity. If the media reports are true, it is a humiliation for Assam at the intertiol level. Let us see if the Chief Minister is bold enough to recommend a CBI inquiry.— Bijon Mahajan, BJP
If the Chief Minister doesn’t take any initiative now, we will be forced to think that he was in the loop. There should be a high–level inquiry into the reports. The ministers and officials involved should be punished.—Durga Das Boro, AGP
The Indian government should officially get all the relevant documents from the US. A CBI inquiry should be ordered to find out the truth. Himanta Biswa Sarma was the main man in the government at that time while Ashish Kumar Bhutani was the GMDA commissioner. I feel these two are the main accused.—Akhil Gogoi, KMSS
By Our Staff Reporter
Guwahati, July 19: A day after reports revealed that a global consultancy firm paid kickbacks to politicians and officials to win two major projects in Goa and Guwahati, Himanta Biswa Sarma, the then Guwahati Development minister when the bidding took place, claimed that nowhere in the reports has it been mentioned that the firm paid bribes to politicians in Assam.
"I have gone through the newspaper reports in US. It said that bribes were paid to some minister in Goa and Indian officials. Now, the term Indian official is ambiguous. There are so many layers of officials. It is difficult to pinpoint where the complicity lies," he told a hurriedly convened press conference.
The New Jersey–based construction magement firm Louis Berger is being charged with bribing Indian officials with several crores to win two major water developmental projects in Goa and Guwahati.
"A New Jersey–based construction magement firm (Louis Berger) has been charged with bribing Indian officials to win two major water developmental projects in Goa and Guwahati. Two of its former executives, Richard Hirsch (61) of the Philippines and James McClung (59) of the UAE, pleaded guilty to the charges," said a news agency story from Washington yesterday.
The charge sheet filed in a district court in the US mentions that the US firm paid bribes to "a minister" and officials to receive the contract in Goa and Guwahati. Though it is unclear in certain terms from the charge sheet about the identity of the minister who took the bribe, Himanta Biswa Sarma claimed he too has gone through a copy of the charge sheet and found that it "clearly" mentioned that the minister was the then Goa minister.
"Nowhere has it been mentioned in the charge sheet of about any bribe paid to me. Some officials from Guwahati might have taken, but I did not receive any complaint till I demitted office in 2011," Sarma said.
However, the former minister asked the Assam government to institute an enquiry to unearth the truth.
"Till I was in office, I did not receive any complaint. There were around 10 parties who participated in the bidding, but no one complained or wrote to me about any wrongdoing…not even any anonymous letter. If any complaint was received after I demitted office (April, 2011), I know nothing about that," Sarma said.
On Friday, the firm admitted to involvement of its employees in bribe payments amounting to 3. 9 million dollars between 1998 and 2010 in India, Indonesia, Kuwait and Vietm. The firm has agreed to pay a 17.1 million dollars crimil pelty to resolve charges that it bribed foreign officials to secure government construction magement contracts. The case was investigated by the FBI’s Newark Division.
These bribes were discovered and reported to the authorities by the company itself as a result of an interl investigation of billing on government contracts abroad between 1998 and 2010.
Former Berger CEO Derish Wolff pleaded guilty last December to inflating overhead costs on projects the company was doing for the US agency for intertiol development.
The CEO, who is 79, was ordered home–confinement for 12 months and fined $4.5 million. The company settled that case for $69 million with the US department of justice.
Louise Berger, along with other nine to ten firms, had bid for the contract of Project Magement Consultancy (PMC) for implementing the South–Central and North Guwahati water supply project, funded by Japanese Intertiol Cooperation Agency (JICA). "The bidding was held in around October–November 2009 and filly a consortium of three firms, Louise Berger, Japanese firm Nihon Psuido and Shah Technical Consultants of India, were selected and awarded the contract in February 2010," said Amit Sahai, maging director of Guwahati Jal Board said.
Sahai said the project is presently underway and it has made around 41 per cent of physical progress. It is expected that the project would be completed by February 2017. The total contract with three firms was of Rs. 86.6 crore.
When asked if the US case would affect the project in Guwahati in anyway, a senior official from Guwahati Municipal Development Authority (GMDA) said it would be JICA to take any fil call, if the need be at all. "Everything from day one was JICA controlled and monitored. At every step, JICA approval is needed, even for selecting and awarding a bid to a firm. Now, if need be, let JICA take the call on the fate of Louise Berger in this project," he said.