Commonwealth chief arrested

2011-04-25 13:14

Indian police today arrested the chief organiser of the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games and are set to charge him after a probe into allegations of widespread corruption at the scandal-tainted event.

Suresh Kalmadi will be “produced before a special judge” tomorrow and formally charged on several conspiracy counts relating to the awarding of commercial contracts, said Dharini Mishra, spokesperson for the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

A member of parliament for India’s ruling Congress party, Kalmadi was sacked as chairperson of the Games organising committee as police investigated charges that the organisers had manipulated tenders and knowingly inflated costs.

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 that saw the cost of the event triple to six billion dollars.

After the Games ended, corruption allegations began to swirl around Kalmadi and his committee.

Mishra cited specific charges that organising officials had conspired to ensure a contract for a private Swiss firm to be the event’s official timekeeper by “wrongfully restricting and eliminating competition from other suppliers in a premeditated manner”.

Other charges related to contracts awarded for a 2009 ceremony in London to mark the start of the baton rally, which saw a Games baton travel across participating nations.

A CBI team recently visited London to probe allegations that at least one London-based firm was paid vast sums of money to provide basic services such as taxis and large television monitors.

Kalmadi, a 66-year-old former air-force pilot with powerful political connections, has consistently protested his innocence in the face of fierce attacks from the media and political critics.

He was booed at the opening and closing ceremonies of the Games after becoming the public face for the organisational fiasco that caused India acute embarrassment on the international stage.

India’s national anti-corruption watchdog, the Central Vigilance Commission, received complaints alleging up to $1.8 billion (about R12 billion) of Games money was misappropriated.

An initial report by the commission into the Games confirmed the use of sub-standard construction materials in a host of building contracts and deliberate cost overruns.

The case is politically sensitive because of Kalmadi’s membership of the Congress party which is already fighting corruption scandals on numerous fronts.

Kalmadi was stripped of his senior position as a secretary of the party last November, but he still represents Congress in his home constituency of Pune in western India in the lower house of parliament.

As well as his political connections, Kalmadi is influential in sporting circles.

He served as head of the Athletics Federation of India from 1989 to 2006 and has been president of the Indian Olympic Association since 1996.

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