Indian court sends ex-games chief into police custody

NEW DELHI - An Indian court ordered the former chief organiser of the Delhi Commonwealth Games into police custody on Tuesday, as police stepped up a crackdown on businesses and government officials in a string of corruption cases to hit the emerging global giant.

By (Reuters)

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Published: Tue 26 Apr 2011, 7:42 PM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 7:59 PM

Federal police on Monday arrested Suresh Kalmadi, a senior lawmaker who has been suspended from the ruling Congress party, charged with cheating in tenders for timing equipment worth millions of dollars in the October sporting event. Police will hold him for eight days from Tuesday.

The case is one of several high-profile corruption scandals to strain the Congress party-led government and spark protests in the Indian capital against what is seen as a culture of near impunity for the country’s elite.

In a separate case, a court deferred a decision on whether to grant bail to five executives charged with manipulating the sale of telecoms licences in collusion with senior officials in the ruling coalition.

New Delhi may have been deprived up to $39 billion in lost revenue due to the flawed awarding of second-generation mobile telecom licences, a state auditor has said.

Kalmadi, who has become a pantomime villain in the Indian media, had a sandal thrown at him as he made his way to a court on Tuesday. He has denied any wrongdoing and his lawyer called the arrest “illegal”.

“The accused person entered into a criminal conspiracy to cheat the government of India in the manner of awarding contracts for timings, scoring and results system to be acquired for the CWG, Delhi 2010,” V.K. Sharma, a federal police lawyer for the prosecution, told the court on Tuesday.

The $6 billion event was billed as India’s answer to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, but descended into rows over leaking stadiums, filthy athletes’ rooms and corruption scandals.

Kalmadi’s aides formed a tight phalanx around the lawmaker from the western city of Pune as he walked out of the court and the judge sat down to write the order. A female aide shouted to him: “God is with us”. Rows of police armed with batons roped a path for Kalmadi to come in and out of the courtroom.

Months of relentless headlines about corruption scandals and a vocal political opposition have roiled the government, rattled investors and put the brakes on ambitious economic reforms in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s second term.

The Congress party suspended Suresh Kalmadi on Monday after he was charged with favouring a Swiss firm to provide 1.4 billion rupees ($31.6 million) worth of timing equipment to the Games.

Kalmadi, who was booed at the Games’ opening ceremony in front of a global TV audience in October, had his constituency office in Pune vandalised by a gang of angry youths on Monday night.

On Tuesday, onlookers shouted a mix of support and abuse as Kalmadi emerged from the court.

Telecoms case

In an adjacent courtroom, former Telecoms Minister Andimuthu Raja was seen slumped over a table as a case over the sale of telecoms licences and spectrum continued on Tuesday.

Raja, along with executives from telecoms firms and the daughter of the leader of a regional party that is a key government ally, have been charged in the telecoms licence case.

In another courtroom, a Delhi high court judge deferred a hearing on the bail applications of senior officials from Reliance Anil Dhirubhai Ambani (ADA) Group and the Indian joint ventures of Norway’s Telenor and the UAE’s Etisalat until Friday at the earliest.

Their bail plea was rejected by a lower court last week after federal police said the executives could abscond or try to influence witnesses. They will be held in jail pending the trial or until they are granted bail. All those on trial in the telecoms case deny wrongdoing.

Federal police on Monday added more names to their charge sheet in the telecoms case, including the lawmaker daughter of the chief minister of Tamil Nadu state. She was accused of taking bribes routed via a TV channel owned by her family.

The case could potentially threaten Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s ruling coalition and provoke a popular backlash in ongoing state elections, including in Tamil Nadu, where Congress is allied to the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) party.

The DMK threatened to pull ministers from the coalition if members of the chief minister’s family were charged, according to media reports.

The DMK will meet in the state capital, Chennai, on Wednesday to discuss their coalition with the Congress party, a spokesman for the party told the NDTV news channel.

The DMK had also threatened to withdraw from the government in March in a row over seat-sharing arrangements in the Tamil Nadu election, for which results are out on May 13.

However, analysts question whether the DMK would act on such a threat, given that it needs Congress’s clout in the state as much as Congress needs the DMK’s 18 seats to maintain its federal majority. Congress could also look to other smaller parties to prop up its coalition.

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