Witness: Discounted Apartments, Prostitutes Used to Secure U.N. Contracts

Discounted apartments and cash were given to a former United Nations procurement official and two other U.N. workers got nights with prostitutes to help secure $100 million in U.N. contracts, a businessman testified Tuesday at a bribery trial.

The witness, Nishan Kohli, provided many of the details at the heart of the government's case against Sanjaya Bahel, who was chief of the U.N.'s Commodity Procurement Section from 1999 to 2003. Bahel, 57, is charged with bribery, wire fraud and mail fraud.

Kohli testified in U.S. District Court in Manhattan that Bahel was so helpful to the Kohli family in securing about two dozen contracts that he was "effectively a partner in our companies in terms of how we operated and executed contracts."

He said Bahel met his father, Nanak Kohli, when the men worked in Washington, D.C., in the early 1980s and socialized with a group of people who had moved to the United States from India. The Kohli family had several businesses and looked to expand revenues by exploiting its relationship with Bahel, he said.

He said that Bahel spoke with his father frequently, and that to hide the frequency of the conversations from scrutiny, the family gave Bahel a cell phone.

Eventually, he said, the family gave Bahel a laptop computer, plane tickets, thousands of dollars in cash, subsidized rent on two luxury Manhattan apartments and "ultimately a very low-priced sale." In return, he said, Bahel told the Kohlis what contracts were about to open for bids and how to overcome bidding requirements that the Kohli companies did not appear to meet.

Kohli said he bribed two U.N. procurement officers by spending $6,000 one night to provide them with dinner, drinks, a strip club visit and a hotel room with prostitutes. He said he repeated the night for one of them a few more times, paying for a prostitute again on at least one of the occasions, and sometimes meeting the officer for dinner or drinks.

He did not name the officials.

Kohli, of Miami, pleaded guilty to bribery and agreed to testify against Bahel. In his opening statement, defense lawyer Richard Herman said that Kohli would lie to protect his father, brother and an uncle from prosecution.

Prosecutors said in court when the jury was not present that Kohli had used marijuana and cocaine. Defense lawyers told U.S. District Judge Thomas P. Griesa that they want to question him about his drug use during a six-year period to possibly explain large cash withdrawals that he claimed were to pay Bahel cash bribes.

In 2003, Bahel left the procurement office to work as chief of the Commercial Activities Service in the U.N. Postal Administration. He was fired in December, a month after his arrest. He could face 30 years in prison if convicted.