NEW YORK (Reuters) - A former U.N. procurement official was convicted in a fraud and corruption scandal on Thursday for helping a friend secure at least $50 million in U.N. contracts.
Sanjaya Bahel, 57, was taken into custody in the Manhattan federal courtroom following the verdict and faces up to 20 years in prison for four counts of fraud, five years for one count of conspiracy and 10 years on one charge of accepting corrupt payments.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was “satisfied that justice has been done.”
Ban said through a spokeswoman that evidence supporting the guilty verdict was based in large part on the extensive work done by a U.N. task force, which gave an 86-page report about Bahel to the U.S. Attorney’s office last year.
Prosecutors had accused Bahel of steering contracts to two companies represented by longtime family friend Nishan Kohli — the Indian government-owned Telecommunications Consultants India Ltd. and Thunderbird Industries LLC.
The telecommunications company secured a number of contracts during Bahel’s tenure that totaled $50 million in value, prosecutors said.
The United Nations also awarded Thunderbird a three-year contract worth $12 million, though the contract was canceled for reasons unrelated to Bahel.
In return, prosecutors said, Bahel was awarded 10 percent of Kohli’s profits earned through U.N. business, first-class plane tickets and reduced prices as a renter, and then buyer, of a luxury apartment close to the U.N. headquarters in Manhattan.
Defense lawyer Richard Herman had accused prosecutors of a “witch hunt” against Bahel aiming to repair the public relations damage done to the United Nations over other scandals including the Iraq oil-for-food investigation.
Kohli pleaded guilty in exchange for a lenient sentence. He testified at the trial that he gave Bahel cash and the apartment deal and also paid off other officials with visits to strip clubs and prostitutes.
“The secretary-general very much appreciates the diligence and effort put into this case by the U.S. Attorney’s office,” U.N. spokeswoman Marie Okabe said. “The secretary-general remains committed to actively pursuing any fraud and wrongdoing at the United Nations.”
Additional reporting by Paritosh Bansal and Evelyn Leopold