- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 2, 2006

NEW YORK — A U.N. official has been suspended after an internal investigation concluded that he steered millions of dollars in contracts to a company owned by the government of his native India in exchange for favors that included low-rent apartments.

The investigation claimed that Sanjaya Bahel, who was formally an official in the Indian government when he was working for the United Nations under contract, used his relationship with a wealthy Indian businessman and his son to steer the deals to the company they represented, Telecommunications Consultants India Ltd. (TCIL).

According to the probe, disclosed Thursday, Mr. Bahel also ignored evidence that TCIL wrongly withheld money from employees sent to U.N. peacekeeping missions in places such as Liberia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Kosovo to do communications work. While the workers claimed they were only getting a pittance — sometimes as little as $5 for daily expenses — the money enriched another company associated with the Indian businessman and his son.

The investigation’s findings were detailed in a confidential report. Mr. Bahel vehemently denied the claims and said the United Nations only notified him of them just before making them public.

“All I can say to you is to me the allegations are not correct,” he said. “I have good reasoning and valid reasoning to counter those.”

Mr. Bahel was chief of commodity procurement for the United Nations from 1998 to 2003. From 1999 to 2004, TCIL received more than $100 million in U.N. contracts, the report said.

Details of the investigation were first reported in yesterday’s editions of the Italian business daily Il Sole 24 Ore. They are the latest in a string of claims of fraud in the procurement department, which is responsible for awarding millions of dollars in contracts to do business with the United Nations worldwide.

After learning the details of Mr. Bahel’s case were about to be made public by Il Sole 24 Ore, the United Nations issued a statement through spokesman Stephane Dujarric that it had suspended an unidentified male staffer and charged him with misconduct. Mr. Bahel confirmed late Thursday that he was that staffer.

Mr. Dujarric said evidence in the case “has also been shared with the prosecutorial authorities of the host country.”

A U.N. diplomat speaking on the condition of anonymity confirmed that the evidence was shared with the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, which has been investigating claims of fraud in the procurement office for several months. A spokeswoman for the prosecutor had no immediate comment about the Bahel case.

Navtej Sarna, spokesman for the Indian Ministry of External Affairs, said he was not aware of Mr. Bahel’s suspension or the accusations against him.

Mr. Bahel could face charges including wire fraud and conspiracy.

The report was compiled by the Procurement Task Force, formed in January to pursue claims of fraud in the procurement department. Many of the claims arose in the wake of the Iraq oil-for-food scandal, and one U.N. employee has pleaded guilty to wire fraud and money laundering during his time in the procurement department.

J.L. Kachru, general manager of TCIL, said the company does not have any contact with Mr. Bahel and has not heard “anything from the United Nations so far.”

The case could have damaging implications for India, which is seeking a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council and has nominated U.N. Undersecretary-General Shashi Tharoor to replace Kofi Annan as secretary-general when he retires at the end of the year.

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