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U.N. Charges 2 Purchasing Officers

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

By EDITH M. LEDERER, Associated Press Writer

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UNITED NATIONS — 

The United Nations has charged two purchasing officers with violating U.N. rules following testimony at the trial of a former U.N. procurement official convicted last month of bribery and fraud, the U.N. said Tuesday.

The two procurement officers, who were not named, "have been suspended and placed on special leave with pay," U.N. deputy spokeswoman Marie Okabe said.

She said the officers were charged following an investigation by the U.N.'s internal watchdog, the Office of Internal Oversight Services, and testimony at the trial of Sanjaya Bahel. He was convicted in U.S. District Court on June 7 on charges that he helped a friend secure $100 million in U.N. contracts in exchange for a huge discount on two luxury Manhattan apartments and cash.

The government's chief witness in the case, Nishan Kohli, testified that he had hired prostitutes on five occasions, including when he was entertaining two U.N. procurement officers he did not identify.

Kohli pleaded guilty to bribery in a deal with the government that requires him to testify against Bahel and to relinquish at least $600,000 for his role in a plot to manipulate contacts at the United Nations to secure $100 million in contracts for his family's companies.

Okabe said the U.N. disciplinary process is continuing regarding the two suspended procurement officers and "until this process is over ... no further comments can be made."

The head of the U.N.'s internal watchdog called for a major overhaul of U.N. purchasing operations shortly after Bahel's conviction.

Undersecretary-General Inga-Britt Ahlenius said investigations by a Procurement Task Force in her office, which provided evidence that helped convict Bahel, have uncovered millions of dollars in fraud and waste.

Bahel, an Indian national, faces a potential penalty of up to 30 years in prison when he is sentenced on Sept. 10.

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