US: Ex-UN official on trial for taking bribes

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NEW YORK, May 22 (Reuters) A lawyer representing a former UN procurement official accused of using his influence to help secure lucrative contracts for a friend in exchange for kickbacks told jurors the official had no such power.

Defense attorneys for Sanjaya Bahel, 57, said all UN contracts were vetted by a large number of officials and that Bahel did not have the power award the multimillion-dollarcontracts.

''He was not (then-U.N. Secretary-General) Kofi Annan during that period of time. He was one peg,'' Bahel's lawyer, Richard Herman, told jurors yestrday during opening arguments at US District Court in Manhattan.

Bahel is charged with accepting corrupt payments, mail fraud and wire fraud, and faces 10 years in prison if he is convicted.

Bahel served as chief of the Commodity Procurement Section within the Procurement Division of the United Nations from 1999 until 2003.

According to the indictment, he was a vocal advocate for two companies the Indian government-owned Telecommunications Consultants India Ltd. and Thunderbird Industries LLC represented by Nishan Kohli, a longtime family friend of Bahel's.

Kohli was an agent for TCIL and the managing partner of Thunderbird.

In some cases, Bahel canceled bids by competing companies, prosecutors said.

''It wasn't blatant, brazen cheating,'' Assistant US Attorney Cathy Seibel told jurors. ''He did things that were in his discretion to do to help the Kohli camp.

TCIL secured a number of valuable contracts during Bahel's tenure, including contracts to supply radio communications equipment, desktop computers and computer monitors, totaling 50 million dollar in value, prosecutors said.

The United Nations also awarded Thunderbird a three-year contract worth 12 million dollar to provide engineering manpower to various UN missions, but the contract was canceled for reasons unrelated to Bahel.

In exchange for his help, Bahel was awarded 10 percent of the Kohli's profits earned through U.N. business, plane tickets and a bargain rate first as a renter then as a buyer on a luxury apartment at the Dag Hammarskjold Towers, close to UN headquarters in Manhattan.

Kohli was originally charged as a co-defendant in the case but agreed to plead guilty and to testify for the prosecution in exchange for a more lenient sentence. He faces a maximum of 10 years in prison.


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