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India vows to pay unpaid CGames bills

NEW DELHI, Jan 20, 2011 – India on Thursday ordered Commonwealth Games organisers to sort out differences with foreign contractors and sports bodies amid complaints and legal threats over millions of dollars in unpaid bills.

New Sports Minister Ajay Maken told a news conference he has set a 10-day deadline for government officials in the organising committee of the October 3-14 event to settle all "legitimate" dues.

"I have directed the government nominees in organising committee to thoroughly verify the unpaid dues and make all the legitimate payments within 10 days," said Maken.

Firms in Australia, Britain, France and Germany are among those owed money, officials in New Delhi told AFP, while national Commonwealth Games Associations have complained of missing refunds and travel subsidies.

"It is a very important issue and I want it to be resolved as quickly as possible. If there is more delay, more problems could crop up," the sports minister added.

A legal battle is now looming with foreign firms seeking full payment for their services plus damages for delays with specialist equipment often taking months to get out of India because of procedural issues.

"Now we will check what is the position and what is the problem if there is one," Lalit Bhanot, secretary general of the organising committee, told AFP Thursday.

Ric Birch, the Australian impresario behind the opening and closing ceremonies, has instructed lawyers to launch a class action against the Delhi 2010 organisers.

"There were up to 15 other companies involved with the opening ceremony and many more companies involved with the Commonwealth Games overall," Birch told ABC radio in Australia on Thursday.

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"None of the companies have received their payments which were due under contract by the end of October."

Birch, who has produced opening ceremonies for several Olympics, said his Commonwealth Games experience had soured his view of the host country.

"We decided that India stood for: India I\’ll never do it again," he told ABC.

Birch\’s company Spectak said it was owed Aus$350,000 ($350,000), sound company Norwest Productions is owed about $1 million and fireworks company Howard & Sons about $300,000 plus a claim of up to $900,000 in compensation.

British diplomats told AFP that broadcasting company SIS Live was also lobbying the British High Commission to help it collect about 30 percent of unpaid fees for producing and transmitting the Games\’ television coverage.

Australian officials in New Delhi have been pushing India for months over the late payments, and Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd raised the issue with his visiting counterpart S.M. Krishna in Melbourne on Thursday.

Krishna promised action, admitting that "some amounts are due to some agencies in Australia who helped us."

Sport Minister Maken was appointed Wednesday in a minor cabinet reshuffle that saw his predecessor M.S. Gill demoted to statistics minister for his role in the Games debacle, which saw preparations delayed and vastly over budget.

Dozens of Commonwealth Games Associations have also complained to their global federation about being left out of pocket due to unpaid expenses.

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The Australian Commonwealth Games Association is owed more than $100,000 in travel subsidies, chief executive Perry Crosswhite said Thursday.

Several hundred containers of equipment have also been impounded in India after the event, and companies say they have been unable to contact officials whose email addresses and telephone numbers were cancelled.

The sports event was tainted by poor organisation and corruption allegations as the estimated budget tripled to six billion dollars.

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