NEW YORK – A senior United Nations postal official was expected in a New York court Thursday to answer charges that he steered $50 million in contracts in exchange for real estate.
Federal officials charge that Sanjaya Bahel peddled his influence as chief of the Commercial Activities Service in the U.N. Postal Administration to get Nishan Kohli lucrative contracts in exchange for renting, and later buying, Manhattan apartments below market price.
U.N. Secretery-General Kofi Annan agreed to waive Bahel's diplomatic immunity Wednesday at the behest of U.S. officials.
A U.S. District Court indictment unsealed Wednesday charged Bahel and Kohli with bribery. Bahel, 55, of Manhattan, and Kohli, of Miami, were arrested Wednesday and face up to 10 years in prison if convicted.
A former Indian official who served as the chief of the commodity procurement section of the U.N.'s Procurement Division before taking the postal administration position in 2003, Bahel has been suspended without pay from the U.N. since August.
Bahel was formally charged said U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric.
According to the indictment, Bahel, beginning in at least 2000, used his influence as a senior procurement officer to benefit Kohli and the companies he represented. Bahel granted exceptional access to Kohli, including a line of communication and a source for information within the United Nations that exceeded what other U.N. vendors received, U.S. Attorney Michael J. Garcia said in a statement.
Bahel even canceled bids by competing companies and rebid contracts to make sure Kohli and his business interests had a competitive advantage, Garcia said.
Both men were scheduled to make their first court appearances on bribery charges Thursday. They each could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted.
Prosecutors said they did not know who was representing the men. A telephone message left at Bahel's home was not immediately returned Wednesday night. No phone listing could immediately be found for Kohli, whose companies are based overseas.
Earlier this year, a U.N. investigation concluded that Bahel, formally an official in the Indian government, used his relationship with a wealthy Indian businessman and his son to steer deals to the company they represented.
Bahel was formally charged with misconduct by the United Nations on Aug. 31 and has been suspended without pay since that time.
When asked about the report's findings by The Associated Press two months ago, 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, who were on the guest list for his son's 2002 wedding. It also said that in 2003, Bahel rented two side-by-side New York apartments from them at rates well below the market and later bought the apartments, where he now lives, at a favorable price.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.