CBI arrests US citizen in Australian Wheat Scam case

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New Delhi, Jul 18 (UNI) The Central Bureau of Investigation today arrested a US citizen of Indian origin in the 1998 Australian wheat import scam.

The CBI has identified the person as Niranjan Shah.

Early this month, the CBI had carried out searches at six places in Delhi, Noida and Gurgaon in connection with the case of alleged irregularities in import of wheat from Australia by the State Trading Corporation (STC) during 1998. The searches were carried out at the residential premises of the suspected agent involved in the deal, offices of three of his companies besides residential and office premises of the then CMD of STC, who were involved in the award of contract to the Australian Wheat Board and played a crucial role in the deal.

The agency had registered a regular case on September 11, 2001, following allegations that the decision to import two million tonne of wheat from M/s Australian Wheat Board (AWB) was taken even though the procurement and stock position of wheat was quite comfortable in 1998, various other bidders were allegedly rejected on frivolous grounds and the contract was awarded to M/s AWB at exorbitant prices.

During investigation, a Letter Rogatory was sent to the Australian authorities seeking information on certain vital aspects like involvement of agents/middlemen in this contract and the payments of commission, if any, in this deal. However, the information sought was then not received from the Australian authorities. Since the investigations did not reveal proper material to substantiate the allegations, CBI was constrained to file a closure report in court on January 3, 2004.

However, on subsequent enquiry by the Australian government on the conduct of Australian companies involved in the UN Oil-for-Food Programme for Iraq revealed that AWB had paid commission in the sale of wheat to India in 1998. The pending Letter Rogatory was re-opened by the Australian authorities and searches carried out by a Joint Task Force constituted by the Australian government for probing the matter. These searches resulted in recovery of vital documents indicating payment of commission by the AWB to a company incorporated in the Cayman Islands, to the tune of 2.5 million dollars.

After a careful scrutiny of the documents concerned received from the Australian authorities, an application was filed by CBI on July 7 this year for re-opening the case and further investigating the same and a special CBI court had allowed the same.


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