The RCMP have implicated a Canadian tech executive in an alleged bribery and bid-rigging scheme that involves prominent public figures in India at a time when outrage over corruption has paralyzed its Parliament.
The federal Justice Department is planning to prosecute businessman Nazir Karigar, an Indian-born Canadian citizen on charges that he violated the Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act – a law that forbids the payment of bribes abroad. The case is scheduled to be heard at Ottawa’s Ontario Superior Court of Justice in September.
More than four years in the making, the case involves Mr. Karigar, a 64-year-old entrepreneur, as well as an undercover FBI sting, a bankrupt Ottawa-area tech firm, a former Mumbai police chief and an Indian cabinet minister sometimes referred to as the “Beedi King.”
The case is part of Canada’s effort to combat its image of being lenient on foreign corruption. In response to criticism from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development and groups such as Transparency International, an international NGO that monitors corruption, the Mounties have dedicated more than a dozen officers exclusively to investigate people and companies who are suspected of paying bribes abroad.
The allegations against Mr. Karigar come as Canada’s Conservative government seeks to forge closer ties with India and gain access to its booming economy. In a speech in Davos, Switzerland, last week, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said a free-trade agreement with India's ruling coalition government was a major objective for Canada.
Authorities allege that Mr. Karigar described to others how he funnelled a $250,000 bribe to Praful Patel, India’s Minister of Heavy Industries and a former minister of aviation.
The case against Mr. Karigar has ensnared another household name in India – Hasan Gafoor, a former Mumbai police commissioner who oversaw the force during the terrorist attacks on his city in 2008. Mr. Gafoor conspired with Mr. Karigar to rig a contract worth $100-million (U.S.), the Royal Canadian Mounted Police said. When contacted, Mr. Patel and Mr. Gafoor said they have no knowledge of the alleged scheme and that The Globe and Mail’s inquiries were the first they had heard about the allegations.
In an interview at his office in New Delhi, Mr. Patel said he was baffled that Canadian authorities could implicate him in an alleged bribery scheme that he had never heard of.
“How can my name be drawn into something that is absolutely false? I’m in public life. I cannot be dragged into such issues and these allegations which are absolutely baseless and false,” said Mr. Patel, who repeatedly added that he will explore “legal options” about how to respond.
In a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh published on an Indian media website, Mr. Patel denied the bribery allegations, calling them "baseless and false."
WHERE IT ALL BEGAN
Few details about the case are available to the public. In 2010, the Mounties announced they had charged Mr. Karigar, but declined to say whom he had allegedly bribed, what contract he was seeking, or for whom he was working. A planned press conference about the charge was abruptly cancelled the morning it was scheduled to take place. A search warrant related to the case has been sealed by court order.
Interviews with a number of sources close to the investigation, as well as a review of documents filed in two legal proceedings in the United States, have revealed that the charge relates to Mr. Karigar's work on behalf of CryptoMetrics, a high-tech security company that was pursuing a $100-million contract with Air India for a facial-recognition security system. The privately owned company, which had offices in the New York area, Ottawa and Mumbai until it became the focus of two criminal investigations, declared bankruptcy shortly after Mr. Karigar was charged.
Authorities allege that as head of the company’s Indian operations, Mr. Karigar spoke openly to others about channelling a bribe to Mr. Patel through a political ally in order to influence approval of the contract. They also contend that he paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to two Air India officials and conspired with Mr. Gafoor, a childhood friend of Mr. Karigar’s who was then director of security for Air India, in an unsuccessful bid to ensure CryptoMetrics was awarded the lucrative deal.
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