Clandestine meetings, a black rexin bag stuffed with cash, a fight over money, hawala couriers and a crockery shop used as a “front company”. These are some of the findings in the Goa chargesheet in the Louis Berger bribery case which states that illegal transactions were allegedly conducted at the private and official residences of former Goa chief minister Digambar Kamat and ex-PWD Minister Churchill Alemao.
The Indian Express has examined the 482-page preliminary chargesheet that levels serious charges of corruption against Kamat and Alemao, and details alleged efforts to either scuttle or take control of the multi-crore water supply and sewage project funded by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).
In one instance, the chargesheet states, Alemao allegedly felt “humiliated” by the amount offered and abused a Louis Berger employee in Hindi before saying: “Tumne ek laakh rupya kabhi dekha nahi zindagi mein (You haven’t seen Rs 1 lakh in your life ever).” The chargesheet was filed at a special anti-corruption court in Panaji on September 28.
Louis Berger was part of a consortium of four consultants appointed in 2009 to monitor the implementation of the Rs 1,031-crore JICA project along with two Japanese firms and India’s Shah Technical Consultants.
Congress leader Kamat, who led a coalition government in Goa from June 2007 to March 2012, has been listed as a “suspect” in the chargesheet. His plea for anticipatory bail is scheduled for hearing on Monday. Kamat had previously denied all charges levelled against him in the case but when contacted by The Indian Express about the chargesheet, said: “The matter is in the court. I would not like to comment on it.”
Alemao, who is listed as Accused No. 1 in the charge-sheet, was arrested on August 5 for his alleged role in the case and is lodged in Colvale jail — his bail plea has been rejected thrice, the last time by the Goa bench of the Bombay High Court.
Alemao’s legal counsel, Advocate Arun Bras De Sa, was not available for comment.
The chargesheet, filed by Goa Police’s crime branch, is based on three months of investigation, including interrogation of employees of the local arm of Louis Berger and the Indian consortium involved in the project. Goa police refused to comment on the chargesheet.
Here’s what the chargesheet contains:
‘Rs 15-60 lakh instalments’
Between 2009-2011, the crime branch claims, a sum of approximately US$976,630 was allegedly given to the former ministers in connivance with the project director Anand Wachasundar. The chargesheet also states that bundles of cash in denominations of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 were packed in a “black rexin bag” and delivered by former employees and consortium members in four instalments, ranging from Rs 15-60 lakh, to the ministers’ private and official residences. Louis Berger employees told police that the transactions took place under the directions of James McClung, former senior vice-president of Louis Berger India, and Satyakam Mohanty, former vice-president of Louis Berger India, the chargesheet states.
Mohanty has been granted conditional bail in Goa. McClung has confessed to wrongdoing in a US court after the company in July admitted to violating the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and agreed to pay a penalty of $17.1 million to resolve charges that it bribed foreign officials in India, Indonesia, Vietnam and Kuwait. Wachasundar was arrested on July 27 and is currently in judicial custody.
‘Crockery, black bag’
In the Goa chargesheet, police said huge sums were sourced from a crockery and gift item shop in Panaji, Midland Collection, which was a “front business” owned and operated by an alleged hawala operator Raichand Manrupji Soni — he has been granted conditional bail.
According to the chargesheet, Soni and an employee facilitated the transfer of illegitimate money from external sources to clients in Goa. “It was either in Raichand’s presence or through his employee Mukesh Bharti that amounts, approximately between Rs 1.2 crore to Rs 1.95 crore cash, was handed over to agents of Louis Berger for over a year and a half,” the chargesheet states.
According to the chargesheet, a former office manager of Louis Berger in Goa, Malladi Sivarama Prasad, told police that he accompanied the company’s regional director Sanjay Jindal to visit Kamat twice — each time allegedly with a black rexin bag containing Rs 50-60 lakh.
Describing the first visit, the chargesheet says Prasad told police that the two reached Kamat’s house in Margao between 10pm to 11pm. “I could see the Chief Minister (Digambar Kamat) sitting inside wearing a white kurta. I was told to stay outside, and only Jindal went inside with the bags,” the chargesheet quotes Prasad as saying.
The second visit, the chargesheet states quoting Prasad, was on a rainy day at the Chief Minister’s official bungalow at Altino. “We entered a big visitors room and I was told to sit there with the two bags containing cash. Thereafter, he (Jindal) went to the CM’s cabin… at the door, he signalled me to enter, I went there and handed over the bags to him and thereafter he told me to go back and sit (in the visitors room),” the chargesheet quotes Prasad.
According the chargesheet, Prasad also told police about a meeting with Alemao. It quotes him as saying: “On the first occasion, I accompanied Prasanna Shah, the Director of Shah Consultancy and carried roughly Rs 50 to Rs 60 lakh, the money was delivered without any hassle. But on the second visit, when I accompanied Anand Wachasundar to Churchill’s guest house or office at circuit house at Altino, Churchill, while counting the bundles of Rs 10 lakh to Rs 15 lakh, said the baggage was short of Rs 40,000. He abused me using filthy language and questioned whether I have eaten the money. He abused me in Hindi ‘Saala tumne ek laakh rupya kabhi dekha nahi zindagi mein’ and Wachasundar asked me to get out and later told me to reimburse Rs. 40,000 to which I refused.”
The chargesheet does not mention the dates of these meetings and only states that they occurred “sometime in 2011”.
According to the chargesheet, Alemao wanted to control the project and “blackmail” the consortium for money from project. It states that in 2008, Alemao kept the “JICA files pending without justifiable reasons”. This led to a meeting including Alemao and top state bureaucrats at the Chief Minister’s official bungalow, the chargesheet states.
Quoting an investigating officer, the chargesheet states: “However at the meeting, the PWD Minister was furious and did not want the JICA funding. Instead, he proposed taking funds from (a) German company. However, since JICA loans were available at very low interest rates the Finance Secretary Udipta Rai objected and Alemao turned furious and a quarrel broke out between him and the state bureaucrats in the presence of Digambar Kamat.”
The chargesheet alleged that Alemao wanted control over the management of funds for the project that was being regulated according to JICA’s norms.
Citing interrogation reports, the chargesheet stated that Alemao appointed Wachasundar to steer the project. “But even after this Churchill, along with Kamat, tried every angle to disrupt the project and take it under his control by taking policy decisions that subverted the JICA guidelines. All the project files costing above Rs 5 crore were made to go through the approval of Goa State Work Boards (GSWB),” the chargesheet states.
Prasanna Shah, director of Shah Consultancy, told investigators that Alemao called him thrice to pass on a message to Louis Berger International to remind them about their commitment, the chargesheet claims.
Once, service tax reimbursement of Rs 7.7 crore to the consortium members was withheld… only to pressurise them to fulfill their monetary commitment, the chargesheet states.
Shah admitted to police that he had accompanied Prasad to meet Alemao but claimed that he was unaware of the contents of the bag that was handed over, the chargesheet states.
Project director Jindal told investigators that his actions on the project were on the advice of McClung or Mohanty, the chargesheet states. “I was only coordinating the delivery of cash through Sivarama Prasad. I was told that the activities were in the interest of the company,” the chargesheet quotes him as saying.
Jindal told police that he quit Louis Berger after coming to know that it was being investigated by US authorities for its projects in Afghanistan and Goa, the chargesheet states.
Apart from Alemao, the Goa police crime branch has named Mohanty, Soni, Wachasundar, McClung and Margao Municipal chairperson Arthur D’Silva as accused in its chargesheet, filed under the Prevention of the Corruption Act.