In July 2016, Louis Berger company told the US department of justice that they had paid $976,630 as bribe to acquire a project in Goa. Louis Berger was part of a consortium for a project initiated by the Indian government to expand, rehabilitate and build water and sewerage facilities.
Two of its former executives, Richard Hirsch (61) of Philippines, and James McClung (59) of the UAE, pleaded guilty to the bribery charge. McClung previously served as senior vice-president responsible for the firm’s operations in India and in Vietnam.
To get to the roots of this case, the Goa crime branch, which is investigating the matter, had written letters rogatory (LR) through diplomatic channels to the US government, asking them to record the statement of McClung, who has crucial information about the bribe case.
But it's been more than a year, and despite regular follow-ups, no positive news has come from the US.
A highly place source in the Goa crime branch informed us that summons was served at McClung's address mentioned on his passport, but his son informed the Indian embassy that his father was in jail. Now the crime branch is preparing to write another letter to the under-secretary in the ministry of home affairs to verify the information about McClung's whereabouts.
The second investigating agency in this case is the Enforcement Directorate, which also wrote similar LR three months ago but is still awaiting response from the US government about McClung.
The ED had attached movable and immovable properties of Rs 1.95 crore of former Goan CMs Digambar Kamat and Churchill Alemao in the Louis Berger bribery case under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002 (PMLA).
The property worth Rs 1.20 crore of Kamat includes a plot of land of 4,047sqft situated at Gogal, residential buildings at Taligao and fixed deposits of Rs 41.35 lakh. The attached property worth of Churchill Alemao includes eight apartments at Fatrade of Varca Village, worth Rs 75 lakh as per the registered sale value of 2009.
On the basis of specific information last week, the ED conducted raids in Kolkata on 14 shell companies, having the thread that the companies were used to transfer bribe money in the scam to Goa.
The role of such shell companies came to light during the Goa Police’s crime branch investigation into the Louis Berger case. The supplementary chargesheet filed by the crime branch stated that the trail of money can be established right from 2009 onwards.
In this case, the statement of Holistic Urban Innovations private company’s director Bimal Kuchroo proved a concrete link to established the route of money exchange in the Louis Berger scam. Kuchroo was summoned to facilitate further investigation and to scrutinise the internal investigation of the scam.
During the interrogation, Kuchroo disclosed that he sent a proposal for the subcontract to Louis Berger India towards JICA water and sewerage project in Goa for Rs 1.44 crore. He stated that he received an instruction from Satyakam Mohanty, former company vice-president, to enlarge the scope of work and to increase the cost to Rs 4.2 crore.
Accordingly, on September 18, 2009, the agreement was executed between the contractor LB Group Inc and Holistic for a total of Rs 4.2 crore. Holistic has to carry out the work of asset management services worth Rs 1.45 crore approximately.
The remainder of the amount was to be returned to Louis Berger officials as a commission towards the subcontract. The investigating agency has stated that Kuchroo couldn’t submit either invoices or any other documents substantiating the work done for the JICA project in Goa.
The chargesheet also spoke of the report attached in the email received by the vice-president and general counsel (international) Louis Berger.
Sources say the report reveals that Mohanty, the LBG signatory on the contract with Holistic Urban Development, had approved all inappropriate payments that were made by the consortium members and the LBG - India's portion of these payments was at least $9,76,000.
Although ED and Goa crime branch are investigating this case in Goa, James Maclung, the key player in this case, is yet to record his statment to Indian investigative agencies.
With the investigation stuck on whether the US responds, agencies can only hope for the best.