CBI begins in-house probe into pay-off charges during Praful tenure

The CBI has begun an in-house probe into pay-off allegations concerning a USD 100 million Air India contract in 2007 when Praful Patel was Civil Aviation Minister, a charge which he has rubbished as "baseless and preposterous".

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The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) had approached the probe agency through diplomatic channels informing them about the scandal and allegations made against Indo-Canadian businessman Nazir Karigar who claimed that he had paid a bribe of 250,000 dollars to an aide of Patel, official sources said today. The contract has since been scrapped.

The CBI had recently asked the Canadian authorities for a statement from Karigar, who, according to a Canadian newspaper, was to be prosecuted by the authorities in Toronto under the newly-legislated Foreign Public Officials Act.

Air India had floated a tender in 2006 for computerised passenger face recognition biometrics system and the businessman was representing CrypoMetrics company. Karigar had claimed that he had met Patel through former Mumbai Police Commissioner Hasan Gafoor and allegedly paid the bribe amount to the minister's aide for pushing the contract in favour of his company.

The contract was, however, scrapped after internal objections by officials of the Air India and Civil Aviation Ministry. The written statement from Karigar would be helpful to the CBI in carrying out further inquiry into the case, the sources said.

The alleged bribe scandal came to light after a report in this regard was published in a leading Canadian newspaper Globe and the Mail which also named Patel, now a Heavy Industries Minister, as an intended beneficiary of a 250,000 dollar bribe supposed to have been given by Karigar.

A final call about registering a case would be taken by the CBI after receiving a written statement from Karigar, the sources said. Patel was not available for comments today but earlier he had written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh terming the allegations as "baseless and preposterous".

Patel had said the claims of bribery appeared to be "a perfect con job" by somebody trying to convince his company that he could deliver a contract if he is paid. The Minister requested Singh to direct Air India to forward all relevant information and documents of the tender to PMO or to any agency "nominated by you" and also wanted "factual position" to be conveyed to the authorities in Canada in order to avoid any embarrassment to the government or to him personally.

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