MP's `Vyapam' to meet Goa's `Louis Berger' as Parliament starts on Tuesday

The opposition Congress party, ready with its barrage of Vyapam and other scandals, will face a BJP armed with the bribery scandal involving US firm Louis Berger international and a former Congress chief minister of Goa as Parliament opens for the Monsoon session on Tuesday.

The Goa scam emerges from a US justice department action against a New Jersey-based construction management firm, Louis Berger International Inc, for paying a little under $1 million (over Rs6 crore at current exchange rates) in bribes for projects in Goa and Guwahati, including to a minister, whose name has not been revealed in documents released by the US justice department.

Louis Berger has admitted to violating the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Law.

The firm also admitted to involvement of its employees in bribe payments of $3.9 million between 1998 and 2010 in India, Indonesia, Kuwait and Vietnam, and agreed to pay the $17.1 million penalty.

Former executives Richard Hirsch and James McClung pleaded guilty in a federal court in Trenton, New Jersey.

Hirsch was a high-level executive based in the Philippines, who at times oversaw the company's operations in Indonesia and Vietnam.

McClung was based in India and at times oversaw the operations in Vietnam and India.

The sentencing for Hirsch and McClung is scheduled for November.

The documents released by the justice department quoted an August 2010 email, sent by a consortium partner to McClung, stating, "As discussed I enclose the details as provided by (third-party intermediary.)"

The email stated, "I have also added the details of amounts paid to (the company) as of date by (the consortium partner) in the same sheet. The attachment included an entry, 'paid by (an agent of the company) to minister on behalf of agent'."

Further, the documents stated, "On or about August 26, 2010, a consortium partner prepared a payment tracking schedule stating that the company had paid $976,630 in bribes in connection with the Goa project to date."

The Congress party in Goa, however, is defiant even as BJP goes on an offensive.

The Louis Berger international bribery scandal also puts the spotlight back on the Rs847 crore water and sewerage project in Goa funded by Japanese government agency, Japan International Co-operation Agency (JICA), whose mismanagement has already cost the state exchequer a loss of Rs166 crore.

According to a report in The Indian Express, in what is being viewed as a fallout of the latest revelation in the matter, two senior executives of the controversial firm in India have quit their posts. Meanwhile, it has become fodder for political fight in Goa with the BJP taking the attack to the Congress camp.

A day after Goa chief minister Laxmikant Parsekar demanded a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into the $976,630 bribery allegations levelled against a Goa minister and officials, defence minister Manohar Parrikar's charge on Sunday has brought the role of then chief minister Digambar Kamat in question.

''The project was related to JICA, therefore, the then PWD minister may be involved, but since the project also deals with financial approval, there is a likelihood that another minister might be involved,'' Parrikar told party workers at a mahasampark campaign meeting in Margao.

While the public works department minister in 2010 was Churchill Alemao, the Congress-led coalition government of the day was headed by chief minister Digambar Kamat, who was also in-charge of the finance ministry.

Kamat, who is being probed for allowing illegal mining in Goa, told Firstpost that he was open to any inquiry deemed fit by the government. ''Any PWD tender has a process and everything has to be done according to it. I am not involved in this. Let them investigate,'' Kamat said, laughing off the charge made by Parrikar.

The New Jersey-based consultancy firm's top officials have already pleaded guilty in a case which charged them for offering bribes to the tune of $ 3.9 million to secure contracts in Asian countries, including India, Vietnam, Indonesia, Kuwait, etc.

Among the Louis Berger officials who have pleaded guilty to paying bribes is James McClung from the consultancy firm's Dubai office, which oversaw the India operations.

While the settlement announced by the justice department did not identify the politicians and officials who were offered the bribes, the documents revealed that the $ 9,76,630 was paid in bribe over a period of time from 2009-2010.

The consultancy firm was a part of an international consortium, which had eventually won the contract to execute the JICA project in Goa.

JICA is an independent governmental agency, which coordinates official development assistance for the government of Japan, which in 2007 had lent the Goa government Rs847.50 crore in soft loan in order to build a major water supply and sewerage project.

Officials in Goa said Louis Berger did not bid for the water and sewerage project, and it was only one of the partners of the consortium that was appointed the lead consultant.

Also, reports said, that both the Congress and BJP governments had appointed the firm for two other projects - one of them the proposed greenfield international airport at Mopa, for which it was the technical consultant.

A M Wachasunder, former PWD principal chief engineer and current project director of the JICA project, said the lead consultant was a Japanese consultant and Louis Berger was one of the partners and that Louis Berger did not bid but the Japanese company did.

"They were not connected directly with the project. They were associated with the lead consultant, Nyan Siddo, for the JICA project," Wachasundar said. Siddo was the consultant for the project, he said.

In Assam, the consulting firm is looking after technical monitoring of the in-progress south central and north Guwahati water supply project to provide round-the-clock water supply to the residents of the city.

Experts from Louis Berger Company are helping in project management in Guwahati, said a senior Assam government official.