New Delhi: The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on Friday began its probe into the Guwahati leg of the multi-crore Louis Berger case by summoning to its state office Bhaben Handique, Jayanta Gogoi and Abdul Wahid, the three petitioners of the case in the Gauhati high court.
As per CBI sources, Handique and others were met by CBI’s anti-corruption cell SP Rajiv Ranjan and inspector Avinish Kumar at the central agency’s office in Guwahati’s Garchuk area. The meeting with the team, which arrived in the city on October 12, went on for about four hours.
The CBI has refused to divulge any details about the meeting to reporters. When asked, Handique, also didn’t disclose much.
“It was about the case, we gave some documents to the team; we will speak only when the time comes,” Handique told The Wire.
On October 4, the CBI filed a 40-page FIR against unknown officials of Guwahati Metropolitan Development Authority (GMDA) and Louis Berger in New Delhi. The CBI has begun the investigation as per the high court order on September 2, which felt that the state CID was probing the allegations of corruption in the Guwahati Development Department (GDD), which has the administrative control of GMDA, “in a partisan manner”.
The two-judge bench comprising Gauhati high court Chief Justice Ajit Singh and Justice Manojit Bhuyan had stated, “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.” On August 2, the court had made the CBI a party to the case stating the slow pace of investigation by the CID.
The case has its roots in a July 2015 law suit filed against Louis Berger, a New Jersey-based consultancy firm, by the US department of justice (DoJ) under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). 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.
In response to it, Handique and others filed a petition in the HC in seeking a CBI probe into the matter. Meanwhile, the then Congress government, which came under huge pressure from the BJP on the issue, ordered an inquiry by the then chief secretary Subhash Das. Based on Das’ report, the state CID filed a case in August 2015 and since then, the CID had been periodically updating the HC about the investigation. However, early this earlier, it failed to update the HC thrice in the case.
The Congress might have failed to win the May 2016 elections but the then then GDD minister Himanta Biswa Sarma has since moved to the BJP and now holds the same portfolio. Speaking to mediapersons a day before meeting the CBI team, Handique demanded resignation of Sarma from the Sarbananda Sonowal government for a smooth investigation.
“The chief minister talks about fighting corruption but the minister against whom there are so many charges is still in his cabinet. He should be removed for the sake of the investigation,” Handique said.
After the high court handed over the case to the CBI, a war of words ensued between Sarma and the then chief minister Tarun Gogoi in which each blamed the other for the alleged scam.