x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

India's former Olympics chief pleads not guilty to corruption

Suresh Kalmadi faces charges of criminal conspiracy, forgery, abuse of office and intimidation over a contract awarded to Swiss Timing, which is part of the Swatch luxury goods empire.

NEW DELHI // India's former Olympics chief yesterday pleaded not guilty to an array of corruption charges related to his handling of the chaotic Delhi Commonwealth Games in 2010.

Suresh Kalmadi faces charges of criminal conspiracy, forgery, abuse of office and intimidation over a contract awarded to Swiss Timing, which is part of the Swatch luxury goods empire.

Swiss Timing, which was named in the case but has not responded to a court summons, won a 1.1 billion rupee (Dh76 million) contract to serve as the official timekeeper and results provider.

In court yesterday, Mr Kalmadi, a sitting MP whose membership of the ruling Congress party was suspended following his arrest, signed a statement to declare his innocence of all charges but did not speak.

"My client has pleaded not guilty," said his lawyer, S Agarwal. "The court has formally framed charges today."

Mr Agarwal said his client may try to challenge the decision to order a trial in the high court. "We will examine the charges and take a further decision on the matter," he said.

Seven others on trial also pleaded not guilty in written statements submitted to a special court set up to try the suspects over the massively over-budget Delhi event.

They face a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

Also facing charges is Lalit Bhanot, who was Kalmadi's deputy during the Commonwealth Games and has since been elected the Indian Olympic Association's number two in a scandal-tainted process.

The dysfunctional organisation of the Delhi event - the most expensive in Commonwealth Games history at US$6bn (Dh22bn) - led to Kalmadi becoming a public hate-figure who was booed by the crowd during the two-week event.

The Delhi Commonwealth Games were intended to showcase India on the global stage. Instead, infrastructure problems, delays and widespread corruption allegations highlighted many of the problems that blight the country.

They also led to criticism of the stranglehold of politicians over Indian sports associations.

On the police charge sheet detailing the evidence, Swiss Timing was accused of paying money to companies as kickbacks to Kalmadi and others via its local partner Gem International.

In one instance, Gem was accused of paying a Hyderbad-based firm for cabling work at an inflated price. The company allegedly had no previous experience and was unable to produce proper paperwork for investigators.

Kalmadi, an MP of more than 30 years who smiled at the press as he arrived at court yesterday wearing a grey suit, ran the Olympics body for 16 years.

The former air force pilot stepped down at the end of 2012 and was replaced by Abhey Singh Chautala, a local politician from the state of Haryana who is seen as a close ally of his predecessor.

Bhanot was also elected unopposed as secretary-general of the Olympics body, a development that led the International Olympic Committee to suspend India's membership because of the tainted nature of the leadership transition.

The Delhi Commonwealth Games organising committee's director-general, VK Verma, its procurement director, Surjit Lal, sports director ASV Prasad, treasurer M Jayachandran and three others are also on trial.