U.N. Official Pleads Guilty to Bribery Charges

Nishan Kohli has pleaded guilty to providing a former U.N. procurement officer with cash and pricey Manhattan real estate in exchange for help winning more than $65 million in contracts with the world body, a U.S. attorney said Thursday.

Sanjaya Bahel peddled his influence as chief of the Commercial Activities Service in the U.N. Postal Administration to get the lucrative contracts for businessman Kohli, according to Michael Garcia, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Mark Mershon, assistant director-in-charge of the FBI's New York field office.

Bahel, a former Indian official, took the postal position in 2003. But before that, he was chief of the commodity procurement section with the U.N. procurement department.

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Behind-the-scenes deals were going on between the two men while Bahel was in procurement from 1998 to 2003, according to federal prosecutors and an indictment unsealed Nov. 1.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan waived Bahel's diplomatic immunity at the behest of U.S. officials. Bahel has been suspended without pay from the U.N. since August.

Bahel, 55, of Manhattan, and Kohli, of Miami, were arrested in November.

Kohli was the managing partner of Thunderbird Industries LLC and an acting agent for Telecommunications Consultants India Ltd., which is wholly owned by the government of India. Both companies sought contracts from the United Nations.

Beginning at least in 2000, according to the indictment, Bahel used his influence at the United Nations to benefit Kohli and his companies. On occasion, Bahel even cancelled bids by competing companies and re-bid contracts in order to give a competitive advantage to Kohli's business interests.

One contract Kohli secured during this time was a $2 million deal to provide radio communications equipment to U.N. missions in Kosovo and East Timor. Another was a three-year contract worth nearly $8 million to provide information technology staffing support to various U.N. missions around the world. One three-year contract worth approximately $36 million provided radio communications systems to U.N. missions in East Timor, the Congo, and other future missions.

In return, Kohli gave Bahel cash, a cell phone for their secret deal-making activities, and an apartment in midtown Manhattan, where Bahel's family lived for two years at a drastically reduced rent when he paid rent at all.

In May 2005, prosecutors say, Kohli sold the apartment to Bahel at a purchase price that was so substantially below the market value that the building's condo board debated trying to block the sale.

Kohli faces a maximum of 10 years in prison for one count of bribery of an official of an organization receiving more than $10,000 in federal funds. Bahel has pleaded not guilty and is scheduled to go on trial on May 7.

When asked last month by The Associated Press about a U.N. investigation of the dealings released earlier this year, Bahel vehemently denied the claims.

"To me, the allegations are not correct," he said then. "I have good reasoning and valid reasoning to counter those."

The U.N. report said Bahel had a longtime relationship with the Kohlis, whose family was on the guest list for his son's 2002 wedding.