CWG scam: Suresh Kalmadi arrested, suspended by Congress

New Delhi: Suresh Kalmadi has been arrested for corruption and cheating. His party, the Congress, has suspended him.

Mr Kalmadi was interrogated this morning by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for the fourth time about a slate of contracts that saw the most expensive firms being hired for equipment and services for the Commonwealth Games that were held in India in October. 

Mr Kalmadi served as the Chairman of the Organising Committee that has been drenched in corruption charges. Team Kalmadi was allegedly in the habit of handing out contracts to firms that provided equipment or services at exorbitant rates; reasonable bids from other firms were allegedly ignored.

Today, the deal used against Mr Kalmadi today accuses him of conspiring to ensure that a Swiss firm was hired at exorbitant prices for timing and scoreboard equipment used at different venues for the Games.

Several of Mr Kalmadi's closest aides have already been arrested- including Lalit Bhanot, who served as the Secretary General of the Organising Committee and V K Verma who was its Director General.

While Mr Kalmadi's own role has long been suspect, the CBI believes it finally has enough evidence to prove his corruption. "Better late than never," was the official response of the BJP to the news of Mr Kalmadi's arrest. (Read: Kalmadi arrest is tip of iceberg)

The Congress - which has found itself staring at a series of corruption scandals involving several of its senior leaders - has been trying to distance itself from Mr Kalmadi. At the Closing ceremony for the Games, he was heckled during his speech by thousands of people packed into the Jawarhal Nehru Stadium in Delhi. When he named Rahul and Sonia Gandhi for their leadership and support, Mrs Gandhi was seen shaking her head.

At ceremonies held to honour Indian athletes after the Games, the Prime Minister did not invite Mr Kalmadi. In November, Mr Kalmadi, who is a heavyweight politician from Pune, was fired as the Secretary of the Congress Parliamentary Party. 

Sources in the CBI say that they also have serious evidence against Mr Kalmadi in other cases - like the Queen's Baton Relay which kickstarted the Games, and was held in London in September 2009. A London-based firm named AM Films and Cars was hired by Mr Kalmadi to provide taxis, portable toilets and massive public TV screens for the ceremony. Mr Kalmadi sanctioned transfers of huge amounts of cash to AM Films and its owner, Ashish Patel, even though there was no signed contract. Mr Kalmadi later told NDTV that because London officials had requested equipment at the last minute, he did not have the time to process a contract. AM Films charged phenomenal amounts for its services. The financial track record of Mr Patel proved to be dubious. And then emails surfaced that showed Mr Kalmadi's close aides instructing Mr Patel for what rates to charge the Committee. 

A team from the CBI has reportedly met with Mr Patel in London, and is encouraging him to turn approver. It has also discovered that three other bids made by other UK firms for the Queen's Baton Relay function were forged - most likely in an attempt to prove that due process had been followed in considering offers from a series of companies.

Mr Kalmadi's associates had first said that AM Films had been suggested as a potential contractor by the Indian High Commission in London. It was soon proved that the emails brandished by the Organising Committee to prove this were doctored.

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