- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 2, 2006

NEW YORK — A senior U.N. procurement officer was arraigned in federal court yesterday, accused of two counts of steering about $62 million worth of contracts to two companies in his native India.

Sanjaya Bahel, 55, was arrested in New York on Wednesday evening, and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan lifted Mr. Bahel’s diplomatic immunity at the request of federal prosecutors.

Mr. Bahel is accused by the U.S. District Attorney’s Office, Southern District of New York, of steering contracts to an associate at Thunderbird Industries and Telecommunications Consultants India Ltd. (TCIL), which is owned by the Indian government.

In exchange, the associate, Miami businessman Nishan Kohli, sublet to Mr. Bahel an East Side apartment at a reduced rate, prosecutors said, later selling him the condominium for so little that the transaction raised red flags in the building’s board.

According to the indictment, Mr. Bahel “granted exceptional access to Kohli, providing Kohli with a line of communication and source for information within the U.N. that exceeded what U.N. vendors could typically expect to receive.”

In addition, the procurement official “even canceled bids by competing companies and re-bid contracts in order to give a competitive advantage to Kohli’s business interests.”

Mr. Kohli was arrested Wednesday night, charged with trying to bribe or wrongly influence the U.N. official.

TCIL secured contracts worth about $50 million to sell the United Nations radio communications equipment, desktop computers, laptop computers and other items, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.

Thunderbird won a three-year contract worth more than $12 million to provide engineering manpower to U.N. missions, although the contract was never executed, according to the indictment.

The United Nations suspended Mr. Bahel without pay in August amid an investigation of the procurement office by U.N. auditors and an outside company, Deloitte & Touche.

In January, eight U.N. staff members were suspended in connection with the inquiry, some with pay, pending the outcome of an audit by the U.N. Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS).

Of these, four have returned to work, and two, including procurement chief Andrew Toh, are awaiting a resolution.

Mr. Bahel, who has worked with the United Nations since 2000, has drawn no pay since Aug. 31, when he was charged by the organization with misconduct.

As the chief of the commercial activities service in the U.N. Postal Administration, his most recent position, Mr. Bahel received a salary of $104,000 to $132,000 a year.

Irregularities in his contracting activities were first discovered by an independent committee looking into corruption related to the Iraq oil-for-food program. None of the contracts Mr. Bahel handled was related to the Iraq effort.

After an OIOS inquiry turned up nothing amiss, the U.N. Department of Administration and Management sought an audit by Deloitte & Touche.

That audit, which cost $3 million, relied on OIOS findings but went further to uncover irregularities in scores of contracts.

An even more detailed audit by Deloitte & Touche, which would have looked for additional irregularities or wrongdoing, was canceled after resistance from member states and some U.N. officials.

If convicted, Mr. Bahel and Mr. Kohli face up to 10 years in prison.

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