Commonwealth chief busted

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NEW DELHI, India, April 26 – An Indian court Tuesday ordered the chief organiser of the scandal-tainted Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games to be held in police custody over corruption allegations in awarding contracts.

Suresh Kalmadi’s court appearance came after the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) arrested him on Monday for his role in handing a $31 million contract for timekeeping and scoring equipment to a Swiss firm.

The senior lawmaker from the ruling Congress party, renowned for his political connections, is accused by police of "wrongfully restricting and eliminating competition" from other would-be Games suppliers.

Police allege the timekeeping contract was inflated by around $21 million.

As Kalmadi, a target of popular scorn as the public face for the Games organisational fiasco that embarrassed India on the world stage, entered the court, a protester hurled a slipper at him.

Kalmadi, 66, appeared unconcerned by the attack as police detained the man, identified by local media as a lawyer upset about India’s rampant corruption.

The Games were meant to showcase India’s status as an emerging global power, but the sporting headlines were stolen by venue delays, shoddy construction and budget overruns in which the event’s cost tripled to at least $6 billion.

Premier Manmohan Singh’s government, buffeted by a string of scandals, has faced loud calls to show it intends to crack down on corruption which has undermined the administration’s popularity and sparked nationwide protests.

The CBI had sought 14 days’ custody for Kalmadi, claiming he had been "evasive and non-co-operative" in his responses. However, the court gave the police agency eight days to question Kalmadi in custody.

It also extended by another eight days the custody of two other accused in the case, Games secretary general, Lalit Bhanot, and director general, V.K. Verma, who were arrested in February.

"They are not revealing the true facts and circumstances of the criminal conspiracy leading to the award of timing-scoring-result system contract to Swiss Timing in a wrongful manner," the CBI alleged in its court submission.

Swiss Timing, the Swiss firm involved, has denied any wrongdoing.

The CBI said the trio were "deeply involved" in the awarding of the contract to the company at "exorbitant rates, thus causing wrongful loss."

Kalmadi and the others have protested their innocence.

"This is an arrest based on perceptions and not on evidence," Hitesh Jain, a lawyer associated with the Games organising committee, told the Times of India.

Kalmadi was dismissed in January as head of the Games organising committee as police probed charges that organisers had manipulated tenders.

India’s anti-corruption watchdog, the Central Vigilance Commission, received complaints alleging up to $1.8 billion of Games money was misused.

Kalmadi’s arrest has coincided with charges being laid against the daughter of one of the coalition government’s key allies over allegations of large kickbacks in the 2008 sale of mobile phone licences.

Meanwhile, The Indian Olympic Association replaced Kalmadi as its president following his arrest on graft charges, it said.

The IOA told AFP that senior association vice-president Vijay Kumar Malhotra had been named as Kalmadi’s interim substitute. 

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