THE man at the centre of the corruption-plagued Delhi Commonwealth Games, Suresh Kalmadi, was arrested last night in the Indian capital on charges of forgery and conspiracy following a nine-month investigation.
The former chairman of the Delhi Games Organising Committee was taken into custody after a full day of questioning by Indian Central Bureau of Investigation officials on charges he skewed the tender process in favour of contractors quoting inflated prices.
A CBI spokeswoman said the 67-year-old, who was sacked as the OC chairman in January but remains head of India’s Olympic Committee, would face charges of “conspiracy to give favourable treatment to a private firm in Switzerland”.
Swiss Timing was awarded the contract to provide the timing, scoring and results system for the games. But the system was a shambles and it fell to an Australian company, Infostrada, to provide an emergency alternative means of transmitting the real time information.
Committee secretary-general Lalit Bhanot and director-general V .K Verma were arrested in February on similar charges related to the awarding of the TSR system contract at an allegedly inflated cost of $US31 million. They have been held without bail since.
India had hoped the Games would help it project the image of a rising superpower, but instead was deeply embarrassed by corruption allegations, construction delays and cost overruns.
Mr Kalmadi attracted widespread criticism and derision from domestic and international media over his dogged denials that there was anything amiss.
Announcing Mr Kalmadi’s arrest yesterday, a CBI spokeswoman said: “It is alleged officials of the organising committee had conspired with representatives of a private firm in Switzerland . . . The contract for timing and scoring results was awarded by wrongfully restricting and eliminating competition from other suppliers in a premeditated manner.”
She added the investigation had revealed that the committee for shortlisting prospective bidders had been constituted by selecting “hand-picked” officials.
Mr Kalmadi’s lawyer, Hitesh Jain, last night denied his client had been arrested, insisting he was simply assisting the CBI with its inquiries.
“Mr Kalmadi was issued a summons in connection with the TSR case as a person acquainted with the facts of the case,” Mr Jain said.
“He was previously out of the country and unable to come, but now he’s back today he is here at CBI headquarters.”
The CBI has so far registered eight criminal cases over Games corruption including three related to restoration work of sporting venues, two involving the Queen’s Baton relay, one involving British broadcast company SIS and the final case relating to Swiss Timing.
Investigators have pointed to the fact that the tender price for the Swiss Timing contract for Delhi was multiples higher than what it charged to provide the same service for the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games as proof the contract was fixed.
But Swiss Timing last month took the unusual step of publishing a full-page advertisement in several of India’s leading newspapers denying any wrongdoing and insisting its tender contract and price structure was “totally transparent”.
The Swiss company said its experts had to “work under disastrous and chaotic conditions before, during and after the Games”.
It also claimed the Delhi contract cost more because the organising committee had requested additional services requiring 50 per cent more people than were employed in Melbourne.
“Finally, the financial and administrative conditions, as well as the support and efficiency of the organising committees in Delhi and Melbourne were unfortunately absolutely not comparable,” it added.
The row over corruption at the Games is one of a series of corruption scandals that has rocked India – and left the Congress-led government looking increasingly shaky – in recent months.