September 1, 2006

UN accuses official of steering contract to India

By Evelyn Leopold

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - A U.N. procurement official has
been referred to U.S. prosecutors over allegations he steered
U.N. contracts to an Indian government firm, the United Nations
and diplomatic sources said on Friday.

The U.N. official, Sanjay Bahel, an Indian national, was
first named by the Italian newspaper Il Sole. The daily said a
U.N. audit report had accused Bahel of working through Indian
businessman Nishan Kohli, who rented him apartments at below
market price in return for steering contracts to firms
associated with Kohli.

The government company, is Telecommunications Consultants
of India, or TCIL, part of New Delhi Telecommunications
Department, U.N. diplomats said. The company is said to have
been awarded some $100 million in U.N. contracts around the
world. It has denied the allegations as has Kohli.

The United Nations has been investigating the procurement
department for several years but only last January placed eight
officials on leave.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric, reacting to news reports,
said two of the eight had been exonerated and were back at
work, two others were reinstated but have been asked to respond
to allegations of mismanagement and three remained on leave
pending completion of the investigation.

He said the eighth, identified by U.N. diplomats as Bahel,
had been suspended "without pay due to the serious nature of
the charges" and has now "been given an opportunity to

"Evidence of the case has also been shared with U.S.
prosecutorial authorities," Dujarric said.

The American authorities involved are in the U.S.
Attorney's office for the Southern District of New York, which
has previously investigated fraud in the procurement
department, including the case of Alexander Yakovlev of Russia.

Yakovlev pleaded guilty in U.S. federal court a year ago to
wire fraud and money laundering.

A man answering the phone at Bahel's New York residence
said he was unavailable for comment.

An official from TCIL told the Press Trust of India, "We
deny everything that has been said about TCIL in the report
about someone steering huge contracts to the company."

TCIL said it had "no access to the United Nations."

Bahel and Yakovlev had both been questioned at length by
the independent inquiry panel investigating the oil-for-food
scandal at the United Nations but were not accused of
wrongdoing in managing contracts for Iraq.

Both men were involved in awarding an inspection contract
to the Swiss firm Cotecna, which employed U.N.
Secretary-General Kofi Annan's son, Kojo Annan.


Among procurement officials still under investigation is
Andrew Toh, the Singaporean head of U.N. support services
including procurement, who has been on leave with pay since
January, U.N. sources said.

Toh has denied any wrongdoing and told Reuters earlier in
the year he was mystified about why he had been suspended since
he had no direct involvement in U.N. peacekeeping contracts.

Bahel, seconded to the United Nations from the Indian
government's military auditing service, first came under
scrutiny in September 2004 when a U.N. internal audit
investigated whether he steered several contracts to TCIL
without proper bidding.

But no action was taken until last year when allegations in
procurement were investigated again.

Christopher Burnham, the American head of the U.N.
management department, said in January that U.N. audits showed
potential abuse could go into the tens of millions of dollars
in the purchase of goods for peacekeeping missions.