Toronto: Union Minister Praful Patel today found himself at the centre of pay-off allegations concerning a $100 million Air India contract during his tenure as civil aviation minister, but he rubbished the charges as “baseless and preposterous”.
A leading Canadian newspaper, Globe and the Mail, reported that an Indian-born Canadian citizen, Nazir Karigar, is to be prosecuted on charges of paying off Patel in a case in which a former Mumbai police chief also figures.
Karigar is accused of paying bribes and being involved in a bid-rigging scheme in 2007 in an unsuccessful attempt to win the contract from Air India for computerised passenger face recognition biometrics system. The airline ultimately abandoned the plans for such a system.
According to the newspaper, investigators allege that in early 2007, Karigar met Patel, now Minister for Heavy Industries, along with one of his political allies Laxman Dhoble.
Later, Karigar described to others, including one cooperating witness from CryptoMetrics, the company bidding for the contract, how he allegedly gave $250,000 to Dhoble “to pass on to Mr Patel so the Minister could use his influence to make the project happen,” the report said.
Part of the movement of that money has been documented in a lawsuit in the Supreme Court of New York where CryptoMetrics sued Karigar, saying that it had paid him $250,000 on the condition that Air India contract would be signed within days, it said.
However, the newspaper also stated that there is no evidence in the court records that Patel received the money.
Stoutly denying the allegations, Patel, when contacted for his reaction, said the claims of bribery appeared to be “a perfect con job” by somebody trying to convince his company that he could deliver a contract if he is paid.
Patel disclosed that he had written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh soon after the Delhi bureau chief of Globe and Mail had sought his reaction to the allegations on Monday.
He told the prime minister that he had made it clear to the journalist that the allegations were baseless and preposterous and that he would be constrained to examine all legal options to counter them.
Meanwhile, he had made some “preliminary enquiries” with Air India which had informed him that in 2006 the airline had floated a tender for the equipment. The tender was, however, scrapped “virtually at the inception”, he wrote.
The minister requested Singh to direct Air India to forward all relevant information and documents of the tender to PMO or to any agency “nominated by you”.
He also wanted “factual position” to be conveyed to the authorities in Canada in order to avoid any embarrassment to the government or to him personally.
The newspaper said that the Canadian Justice Department was planning to prosecute Karigar on charges that he violated the Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act, a law that forbids payment of bribes abroad. The case is scheduled to be heard in September.
According to the newspaper, the case has been in the making for more than four years and involves Karigar, the bankrupt Ottawa-area tech firm, former Mumbai Police Chief Hasan Gafoor and Patel.