Scapegoating as Usual

Sunday, December 5, 2010

What do we infer from the corruption underlying the organization of the Commonwealth Games (CWG) 2010, which were hosted in India? The pride that India gained when it got the right to host the Games could not be stained at any price. An Organising Committee (OC) headed by Suresh Kalmadi was set up to accomplish infrastructure development and city beautification projects, which would refurbish Delhi. Meeting deadlines that would mark the commencement of the game was of crucial necessity for the Organising Committee. Not being able to finish by the particular date would have sullied the image that India wanted to project internationally-- a blemish that would forever taint its reputation in the global arena. 

Opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games 2010
This image seems to be tainted now, after the corruption involved in the financial irregularities involved in the conduct of the CWG. Just days before the initiation of the Games, the Organising Committee was charged with corruption in the provision of the Games’ contracts to a UK based firm and in illegally awarding infrastructure construction contracts. This UK based firm was AM films and AM Car & Van Hire, which were run by a businessman named Ashish Patel. This firm received 247,000 pounds from the CWG OC for the completion of the work at the Queen’s Baton Relay in London last year. The UK Tax Department started an investigation into the dealings of the unaccounted money that was transferred to this company via the CWG Organising Committee. A letter was sent to the Indian High Commission in London. This in turn sparked an investigation by the Sports Committee in India after a letter was sent by Rajesh N Prasad, the Deputy High Commissioner in London.
Ashish Patel

Reports revealed that there was no written contract between the OC and the AM Films as things had to be done quickly to meet the demands of the Queen’s Baton Relay. The lack of a contract and tender process is even substantiated by Patel. Kalmadi points out that the Indian High Commission itself recommended this company. In an NDTV interview with Barkha Dutt, Kalmadi says, “it was the Indian High Commission’s letter that recommended Ashish Patel’s firm to us and the total money paid to the firm is two lakh pounds.” The Indian High Commission retorted by saying, "This company AM Films Limited was not on the panel of companies recommended by the High Commission. Raju Sebastian is an assistant in the High Commission of India, not in a position to make such a recommendation, but for the HCI (High Commission of India) to make any such statement, we need to scrutinise the email held up by Suresh Kalmadi." 

This is the point where the blame game finds its scapegoat. Kalmadi has corruption charges against him, where he overshot the CWG budget by ` 450 crores. Kalmadi said that “every paisa spent on the Commonwealth Games was accounted for.” The Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) report found numerous flaws in the functioning of the system. Misdeeds of the OC, like awarding the Games contracts at inflated prices to bidders, poor quality of construction and granting of work to ineligible agencies of the various departments in the capital. The CVC’s Chief Technical Examination Wing report included corruption in 16 projects under the civic and construction agencies. The consequences are that Kalmadi is made responsible for this muddle. 
Sheila Dikshit
The fact is that the OC was created by the government, but there is no mention of the latter’s responsibility for this predicament in any news report. What about Sheila Dikshit? Isn’t she a part of this mess where her role is overlooked and the censure of a massive corruption scandal is placed on the shoulders of a few people? T S Darbari, Sanjay Mahendroo and M Jayachandra have been sacked and arrested. Right now, they are in CBI remand for inquiries on charges that have been set against them. Through these investigations, the CBI learned that Kalmadi was “at the helm of affairs and all decisions were endorsed and approved by him.” What is even more ironic is that these people are arrested for the execution of the orders given to them, while the “high profile people” get away scot-free. 

Compiling all the evidences together the CBI might arrest Kalmadi upon his return from the Asian Games. The funds have been provided by the Central and Delhi governments, so why does it seem that they have been unaware of all the transactions conducted by the OC? Who is to blame? This is the question that we must ask, rather than arriving at a consensus without properly judging the situation. 

The Voices Are Not Whispers Anymore

October 2002 is a date that the people of the Central African Republic (CAR) will never forget. It was a time when the civilian population of CAR faced the most monstrous atrocities by the troops of Jean-Pierre Bemba, the former Vice-President of The Democratic Republic of Congo. The International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague has charged Bemba with three war crimes and two counts of crime against humanity for rape, murder and pillage committed by his troops in CAR. This is the first time in the ICC where a trial is held against a high-ranking political leader charged with indirect responsibility for the alleged crimes committed by his troops.
Jean-Pierre Bemba

He has pleaded not guilty and his lawyer, Nkwebe Liriss feels that the trial is biased and the court will never reach a verdict. Liriss is not alone in his stand. The Congolese community in Brussels believes that their hero is falsely indicted and is a victim of a “political conspiracy”. Bemba is seen as a leader by this community-- the man who stood up to Joseph Kabila, the President of the Democratic Republic of Congo, seen as a totalitarian dictator among them. The supporters of Bemba feel that the international community is deluded by Kabila and his political devotees.
The ICC trial at The Hague
Bemba was the son of a rich businessman who was closely associated with the former President of Congo, Mobutu Sese Seko. Laurent Desire Kabila, a rebel leader and father of the current President, Joseph Kabila overthrew Mobutu and changed the name of the country from Zaire to the Democratic Republic of Congo. In response to this situation, Bemba started the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) to overthrow Kabila. During 1998-2003, Congo was a war zone, where Bemba controlled the equatorial region and the border with CAR. Around the same time, Ange-Felix Patasse, the former President of CAR sought assistance from Bemba to quell the coup started by General Francois Bozize.
Ange-Felix Patasse

After interceding in CAR and the end of the war in Congo, Bemba won the post for Vice-President. However, he was defeated by Joseph Kabila in the second round of Presidential elections in 2006. Now out of power, Bemba was told to disband his militia and recruit his own troops into the regular national army. He refused to accept this order because he wanted the troops for his own protection. The consequence of this refusal was devastating, as clashes erupted in Kinshasa on March 2007 between the army and Bemba’s militia. Over this period of two months, three hundred people were killed. The Government accused Bemba for maintaining a private militia, thereby moving the courts against him. He managed to escape in an armoured UN vehicle on the night of 11 April, 2007. Bemba fled to Portugal on the pretext of medical treatment. Upon reaching Belgium he was arrested on May 2008 and kept in a detention centre till the beginning of his trial at the ICC.

The crimes of violence in CAR were brought to the attention of the ICC by an investigative report of the International Federation of Human Rights on February, 2003. As an effect of this report, the ICC conducted its own investigation on May 2007, the result of which led to the arrest of Bemba, who had escaped to Belgium.  

Joseph Kabila
The commencement of the trial on 22 November, 2010 brought a sigh of relief to the citizens of CAR, who were mostly victims of the atrocities committed by the troops under the command of Bemba. CAR became a hell’s ground where rape was used as a means to oppress and dominate the people. It became an instrumental weapon of war through which the civilian population was suppressed and punished because they were suspected of being in solidarity with the CAR rebels. Women were raped in front of their family members by Bemba’s troops. “The massive rapes were not only sexually motivated, they were crimes of domination and humiliation, directed against women, but also against men with authority,” said Luis Moreno Ocampo, the Chief Prosecutor of the trial.

Horrendous details of the acts of violence against the people of CAR were described by the first witness at the ICC. He mentioned a nine year old girl who was raped in front of her mother. “Because the little girl was still…fresh, they did not take the mother, they preferred the little girl, they raped her in front of her mother in the house,” he said. This is one of the most shocking incidents out of the many that will be told by the 759 witnesses at the ICC trial. The sexual crimes violated the dignity of women, children and even men. The social stigma and shame brought upon these people is irreparable, as the cowardly and weak perpetrators walk away scot-free.
Mobutu Sese Seko

Besides sexual crimes, there were other instances where people were robbed by the troops at the streets and were beaten if they did not have anything valuable. The troops plundered villages, barging into houses raping women and little girls, and stealing valuable items. The abomination that these victims feel can be vented only by justice and impartial judgment to convict Bemba, the man responsible for these crimes.

The UN Security Council has condemned sexual crimes related to conflict. It has demanded that women should be included in decision making processes during peace negotiations. Therefore, this is the first case before the ICC where a female trial attorney by the name of Petra Knewer is prosecuting the case. Along with her, there are three female judges who will adjudicate the trial focusing on gender crimes.

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But if CAR’s former President, Patisse requested Bemba for assistance then he too must be made responsible and accused as one of the culprits. Patisse must have known about the outrageous crimes done against his own people. Then why did he not dare to end the tyranny? Why was Bemba not preventing the gratification that his troops were indulging in? Why did he not punish them? These are the questions that dwell in the readers’ mind, which form a mere dependant backdrop to the silent yet undying hopes that the victims of the coup thrive upon. 

Congo: Bemba faces trial for mass rape, murder
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Target The Bull's Eye

The chief suspect still remains elusive as the investigations into the criminal conspiracy and corruption scandals are still under way. The CBI already has in its dragnet the several key aides of Suresh Kalmadi, the former Chairman of the Commonwealth Games (CWG) Organising Committee (OC). T S Darbari and Sanjay Mahendroo, who were arrested on November 15, 2010, have been remanded by the Special CBI Court to judicial custody till December 8. The sacked Joint Director General of Finance of the OC, M Jayachandra who was taken into police custody after his arrest on November 23 is also sent to judicial custody till December 8. The three accused have been sent to Tihar jail as the CBI has completed their investigative procedures against these officials.
Darbari with the baton
Initially the CBI had filed two cases against the CWG officials. The first case concerning AM Car & Van Hire, implicated its owner Ashish Patel, Darbari and Mahendroo for forgery of public documents and criminal conspiracy under different sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and Prevention of Corruption Act. The second case regarding AM Films incriminates Patel, Darbari, Mahendroo and others under Sections 420 (cheating), 120-B (criminal conspiracy) of the IPC and Prevention of Corruption Act. Since both cases are almost similar, Darbari who was arrested in the first case argued that the CBI is playing a foul game by keeping its option open for a re-arrest in the second case. But the CBI Court ultimately rejected his contention.
The CBI has been constantly keeping tabs on Darbari. It hit the jackpot when the agency traced 24 bank accounts under Darbari, which contained money directly linked to the financial irregularities related to the Queen’s Baton Relay. It also happened to come across crucial documents revealing details of the meetings of the OC’s financial department on September 4, 2009, which later gave contracts to AM Films and Van Hire. The CBI is also currently examining the hard-disk of two laptops belonging to Darbari that provide details of expenses in luxurious hotels by Darbari and Mahendroo.
The CBI is fast catching up with the culprit, as a third case has been filed in which Lalit Bhanot and V K Verma, the two key aides of Kalmadi, are charged with abusing their position and entering into a criminal conspiracy with Swiss Timing Limited. This pertains to the “timing, scoring and results” contracts given to Swiss Timings Limited for ` 107 crore. The OC officials have been booked for tweaking tender conditions to wrongly eliminate a bidder and vastly overpricing the contract.” The CBI also visited the offices of Sangeeta Welingkar and R K Sacheti, both who are one of the closest aides of Kalmadi. 
Save the Baton!

A Request for Proposal (RFP) was issued on October 1, 2009, but this was delayed to October 4, 2009, thereby making the bids restrictive. Later, there were two bids in response to the RFP. A company based in Spain was wrongfully eliminated at the pre-qualification level. No wonder the Swiss based company won the bid from the CWG. It seems certain that there was a conspiracy between the accused and Swiss Timings Limited for the award of the CWG contract to the latter. The CBI authorities say that 22 officials of the Swiss company are under the scanner and their offices have been searched including the premises of the corporation. But it seems doubtful whether the CBI will get all the information it needs because it has delayed the investigation process, which would have probably given time to the suspects to destroy the evidence. Verma also said that the decisions were undertaken by the Executive Board of the OC and approved by the Ministry of Sports
The Queen & Pratibha Patil
Kalmadi “lashed out” against Sheila Dikshit for putting the blame for the corruption scandals on scapegoats. She said that the OC operates in “mysterious” ways but did not mention the corruption in various departments of the Delhi Government. Every decision of the OC is made by its Executive Board that consists of two representatives from the Delhi and Central governments. Therefore, if the CBI is chasing the OC officials, should it not put the Delhi and Central governments under its radar as well?  In 2005, a scheme for the CWG was laid out. It stated that the construction of sports facilities and further development of infrastructure in Delhi was the responsibility of the Delhi Government and funding would be provided by the Central Government. The scheme also declared that the OC was responsible only for the conduct of the Games. Then why is the blame only pinpointing to the OC officials? The bigger picture has to be put in the spotlight. Could this be a ploy of the politicians belonging to the Delhi and Central Governments to save themselves from the clutches of justice and pass on the buck to their minions? 
The Enforcement Directorate (ED) found that the Joint Ventures that awarded overlays contracts of the CWG may have been “fraudulently formed” as there were no written agreements between the firms in partnership. For example, the ED could not find the address of Deepali Design and Exhibits, which was in partnership with a Hong-Kong based firm called Pico Global Services. This was the biggest joint venture costing ` 231 crores. The Deepali Design and Exhibits is owned by Vinay Mittal, a relative of the BJP leader Sudhanshu Mittal, who is under investigation for Games related financial irregularities. 
The CBI have found several paths leading to suspects belonging to the OC and are meandering to what they assume is the main offender behind the whole circus of corruption scams concerning the CWG. Interrogation of the aides of Kalmadi is likely to reveal something much bigger. It is certain that the Delhi and Central governments too have their hands dirty. But this revelation will only be substantiated once investigations of the Organising Committee are completed.

Kalmadi hits back
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