Government

CBI Takes Over Louis Berger Corruption Case After Gauhati High Court Order

A CBI team visited Guwahati to begin work on the case, besides submitting a copy of the FIR against company officials to the high court on October 3.

The Central Bureau of Investigation. Credit: PTI

New Delhi: As per a directive by the Gauhati high court, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has taken up the multi-crore Louis Berger corruption case by filing an FIR against unknown officials of the company for allegedly bribing the former Assam government to corner contracts.

The 40-page FIR, filed in New Delhi against the New Jersey-based consultancy firm, also accused unknown state government officials and public servants of indulging in criminal conspiracy and corruption.

The high court, on September 1, handed over the case to the central agency after observing that the state  Criminal Investigation Department (CID), which has been investigating the case since August 2015, was moving in a “partisan manner.”

The two-judge bench comprising justices Ajit Singh and Monojit Bhuyan, said, “It is crystal clear that the investigating agency (CID) has not investigated the case in the right earnest and has been conducting the same in a partisan manner. The mystery of such allegations involving misappropriation of enormous public money must not haunt the people of the state indefinitely and must come to a logical end at the earliest.”

After filing the FIR last week, a CBI team visited Guwahati to begin work on the case, besides submitting a copy of the FIR to the high court on October 3. A copy has also been formally handed out to social activist Bhaben Handique and two others, on whose petition the high court has been hearing the case and had made the state CID a party to it.

The case came to light in July 2015 when a law suit was filed against Louis Berger by the US department of justice under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Executives of the firm told a US court then that they and their consortium partners had – between 1998 and 2010 – paid bribes worth $976,6630 to unnamed “officials” in the Assam and Goa governments to corner water management consultancy projects. While the investigation in the case has progressed considerably in Goa, the Assam CID’s investigation has failed to make any headway.

Senior Assam minister and BJP leader Himanta Biswa Sarma was once in the Congress, and was accused of playing a key role in the Louis Berger corruption scandal in the state. Credit: PTI

Speaking to the Wire, petitioner Bhaben Handique said, “Handing over the case to the CBI was our primary plea to the high court. So obviously, I am happy to receive a copy of the FIR from the CBI team and hope that the probe agency brings to light the guilty in this high profile case where public money had been misued.”

Last month, soon after the high court handed over the case to the CBI, a war of words on social media took place between the former chief minister Tarun Gogoi and the then Gauhati Development Department (GDD) minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, who has now moved to the ruling BJP and holds the same portfolio. Each accused the other of being responsible for approving the US firm to handle the water management project of the GDD.