Former Goa minister Churchill Alemao was arrested late last night for his alleged involvement in the Louis Berger International Inc (LBI) bribery scam. Alemao was in charge of the ministry overseeing the state public works department at the time the New Jersey-based company had been awarded the consultancy contract for a water and sewerage project in 2010.
Alemao had allegedly accepted a bribe from LBI to give them the project. He had been PWD minister from 2007 to 2012.
Goa Superintendent of Police (Crime) Karthik Kashyap confirmed the arrest. PTI reported that the 66-year-old minister was detained last night from Agassaim village in south Goa at 10.30 pm and later put under arrest around midnight by the Goa Crime Branch police.
Police claimed that Alemao was arrested on the basis of "clinching" evidence.
"Alemao was arrested as we got clinching evidence against him after interrogating others accused who are arrested. We might need custodial interrogation of Kamat too," a senior Crime Branch official said on condition of anonymity.
He is the first Indian politician arrested in the case after the scam was first unearthed following the New Jersey-based company's internal investigations. Yesterday, former Chief Minister Digambar Kamat applied for anticipatory bail plea fearing arrest.
Kamat, who headed the previous Congress ministry, had moved an anticipatory bail application in a Panaji court which will hear it tomorrow.
Meanwhile police is reportedly preparing to oppose his anticipatory bail plea. "We are preparing a strong response for the anticipatory bail plea filed by Kamat. We will oppose it," the officer said.
State Director General of Police T Mohan said it would completely depend on the investigating officer (IO) whether or not to oppose the anticipatory bail plea of Kamat.
"But I feel he must be opposing it as they might want him for the investigation," the DGP said.
Meanwhile Alemao told reporters today that he was innocent and arrested as part of a "political game".
"I am happy. They have arrested me. This is a political game. I have not done anything wrong," Alemao told PTI while being taken for medical examination early today morning.
"Why should I go for anticipatory bail. I am very innocent. I have not done anything wrong," said Alemao when asked why he didn't move anticipatory bail plea.
Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar, heading the BJP-led Government in the state, rejected the charge. Parsekar said, "Police are doing a good job. No one would be spared."
A team of crime branch officials had gone to arrest Alemao at his residence at Varca in south Goa. "But Alemao was at Agassaim village for a private function from where he was picked up. After initial questioning at crime branch office, he was placed under arrest," a senior official said on the condition of anonymity.
He has been arrested under various sections of prevention of corruption act and 120 (B) of the Indian Penal Code, a senior police official said.
Alemao was state PWD minister when officials of the US-based company Louis Berger paid bribe to win consultancy for water augmentation and sewerage pipeline project under Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).
"This is politically motivated case. When it comes to politicians all the books of law are kept on the shelf," said Mike Mehta, lawyer for Alemao who had come to meet him at crime branch office during wee hours.
"He could have gone for anticipatory bail but he refused to go for it. He wanted to face the investigators," said Mehta.
Alemao was taken for a medical check up at Goa medical college and hospital during wee hours and was later sent to police lock up.
"Alemao was reluctant to go for medical examination due to which it was delayed by almost three hours," said a crime branch official.
He would be produced before the local court later today.
$1 Million Scam
The New-Jersey based construction management company was charged last month for bribing officials to win two major water developmental projects in Goa and in Guwahati. While the name of the Indian officials are yet to be disclosed by the US Department of Justice, the bribe amount is reported to be just under $1 million (about Rs 6 crore in the current exchange rate).
Executives of the American firm — Louis Berger International Inc — allegedly bribed Indian officials to secure the Goa project, paying around $976,630. Two of its former executives - Richard Hirsch (61) of Philippines, and James McClung (59) of the UAE - pleaded guilty to the bribery charges. The sentencing hearings for Hirsch and McClung are scheduled for November 5 this year. McClung previously served as senior vice president responsible for the firm's operations in India and in Vietnam.
The company has agreed to pay $17.1 million criminal fine to resolve charges that it bribed officials in India, Indonesia, Vietnam and Kuwait to secure government construction management contracts.
Reports suggested that these bribes were discovered during an internal investigation done by the company, which then reported it to the authorities.
The company took responsibility of the actions of its former managers in an official statement.
“The DOJ has acknowledged the extensive global reforms undertaken at Louis Berger since 2010,” said Nicholas J. Masucci, Louis Berger chairman. “2010 was a pivotal year in our company’s history. It marked a clear departure from the past as we assumed new management, new processes and comprehensive system reforms that are the core of our global operations today. Today’s settlement is the critical final milestone in our reform, as it was important for us to take responsibility for the historic actions of former managers and close the chapter on the company’s pre-2010 era.”
The Indian and Japanese government joined hands for a five-year project to improve Goa's water supply and sewerage by expanding, rehabilitating, and building water and sewerage facilities.
Louis Berger was part of a consortium for the project that included two Japanese firms and an Indian partner.
The team developed a project management information system and plan, evaluated bids, reviewed design and construction plans, and ensured quality work was done on time and within budget, the company says on its website.
Louis Berger has offices in India since 1998, currently in Gurgaon, Mumbai, Chennai and Hyderabad.
(with PTI inputs)