World News

Ex-U.N. official sentenced to 8 years for corruption

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A former U.N. procurement official was sentenced to 8 years and one month in prison on Tuesday for helping a friend secure at least $50 million in contracts in return for financial favors including a luxury apartment.

Sanjaya Bahel, 57, was sentenced in Manhattan federal court where he was convicted last June on charges of fraud and accepting corrupt payments for steering contracts to two companies represented by longtime family friend Nishan Kohli.

“All that I have has been lost,” Bahel told U.S. District Judge Thomas Griesa while pleading to be able to return to his native India to be with his wife, two sons and elderly parents. “I stand before you, a devastated and broken man.”

But Griesa said the United Nations relied on individuals like Bahel to have “its operations conducted in an honest manner.”

During the trial, prosecutors said Bahel gave inside information and expert advice to help secure contracts for two companies -- the Indian government-owned Telecommunications Consultants India Ltd. and Thunderbird Industries LLC -- represented by Kohli.

In return, prosecutors argued, 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 $1.5 million luxury apartment close to the U.N. headquarters in Manhattan.

During sentencing the judge said the value of the favors and benefits to Bahel was at least $400,000.

Bahel’s lawyer Richard Herman had accused prosecutors of a “witch hunt” against Bahel aimed at repairing the public relations damage done to the United Nations over other scandals including the Iraq oil-for-food investigation.

Kohli, who pleaded guilty in exchange for leniency and is expected to be sentenced within a month, testified during the trial he gave Bahel cash and the apartment deal and also paid off other officials with visits to strip clubs and prostitutes.

Bahel served as chief of the Commodity Procurement Section within the Procurement Division of the United Nations from 1999 to 2003.

After his conviction U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was “satisfied that justice has been done.”