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Goa bribery scam reaches Congress' door. What next?

Sanjeev Shivadekar | Updated on: 13 February 2017, 3:25 IST

The scam

  • US-based firm Louis Berger paid about $1 million to bag a project
  • The project: to build and expand water and sewerage facilities

The probe

  • The police have arrested former PWD chief engineer A M Wachasundar
  • They have quizzed former PWD minister Churchill Alemao
  • Former CM Digambar Kamat may be questioned soon

The fallout

  • The BJP wants a CBI probe, says its ambit is too wide for the police
  • Its aim: to hit back at the Congress for targeting its \'tainted\' leaders
  • Alemao, Kamat deny wrongdoing, the Congress cries \'vindictive politics\'

The Louis Berger scam has reached the doorstep of the Goa Congress leadership.

The police questioned former PWD minister Churchill Alemao for three hours on 28 July, a day after arresting former PWD chief engineer A M Wachasundar.

The investigators were tight-lipped about what Alemao was asked but a senior crime branch official said he would be called in again soon.

Louis Berger became a consultant on the project after paying bribes to the tune of $9,76,630

Former chief minister Digambar Kamat was also summoned to the crime branch office, but he did not turn up.

Catch made repeated attempts to reach Kamat as well as senior crime branch officials for a comment, but the calls went unanswered.

The two Congress leaders have been accused, in a statement given by Louis Berger officials to a Panaji court, of taking bribes for awarding a project contract to the US-based firm.

A shady deal

Kamat's government had sanctioned the project to build and expand water and sewerage facilities in Goa in 2007.

To fund the project, the state took a loan of Rs 8,017 crore from the Japan International Cooperation Agency, or JICA.

Louis Berger International became a consultant on the project after bribing officials and politicians to the tune of $9,76,630.

After the corruption was discovered during an internal audit, the US Justice Department prosecuted two former executives of the firm, Richard Hirsch and James McClung.

The latter had served as senior vice president for the firm's India operations.

Both pleaded guilty and the firm had to pay a $17.1 million fine to resolve the charges.

In the net

The Goa contract was allegedly facilitated by Wachasundar, a former project director of JICA.

The police believe he can help "unearth" the money trail; Louis Berger officials have reportedly said the bribe was routed through hawala channels via Dubai.

Former PWD chief engineer A M Wachasundar allegedly facilitated the contract-for-bribe deal with Louis Berger

As for Alemao, chief minister for a few weeks in the 1990s, he has been relatively free from controversy.

His brothers though are "notorious" and were booked for smuggling in the early '90s, only to be let off for lack of evidence. Alemao had claimed that his family was falsely implicated by then CM Ravi Naik, his rival, to malign him.

Naik, however, denied the charge. "I'm not able to recall the exact nature of the case and the people involved in it," he told Catch. "But, I had no role to play in it. It is easy to make allegations."

Dealt a blow

The BJP, meanwhile, has reiterated its demand for a CBI probe. "It is not about doubting the police. The ambit of the scam is such that it calls for a probe by a more professional and equipped agency," said BJP's Goa chief Vijay Tendulkar.

The party has been trying to use the scam to hit back at the Congress, which has stalled the parliament over the Lalit Modi row and the Vyapam scam.

The scandals have tarnished the reputations of Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj and Chief Ministers Vasundhara Raje of Rajasthan and Shivraj Singh Chouhan of Madhya Pradesh. The Congress wants all three sacked.

The Congress has denounced the BJP's posturing as "vindictive politics". And both Alemao and Kamat have denied any wrongdoing.

All eyes are now on the Goa Police's next move.

First published: 29 July 2015, 1:37 IST