A former United Nations official was convicted Thursday of 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.
Sanjaya Bahel, 57, chief of the U.N.'s Commodity Procurement Section from 1999 to 2003, had maintained his innocence since his November arrest.
Bahel slumped in his chair when the verdicts were read convicting him of bribery, wire fraud and mail fraud. The charges carry a potential penalty of up to 30 years in prison.
Bahel, who is originally from India, will be kept in jail until sentencing, set for September. “I don’t know whether there could be some scheme to have him depart from the country,” said U.S. District Judge Thomas Griesa.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon “is satisfied that justice has been done,” deputy spokeswoman Marie Okabe said in a statement, adding that the U.N. had provided trial evidence.
His onetime co-defendant, Nishan Kohli, pleaded guilty to bribery and testified against Bahel, saying Bahel gave his family so much inside information about pending contracts that the Kohlis came to think of Bahel as a business partner.
Kohli, of Miami, testified in Manhattan's U.S. District Court that Bahel met his father, Nanak Kohli, when both men worked in Washington in the early 1980s and socialized with others who had moved to the United States from India.
Kohli said the family sought Bahel's help in securing about two dozen U.N. contracts, rewarding him with modest gifts such as a laptop computer and plane tickets. Eventually, the Kohlis let Bahel rent two luxury midtown Manhattan apartments at a huge discount and later buy them cheap, he said.
Kohli said Bahel advised the family how to qualify for U.N. contracts it otherwise might not get and even ghostwrote some of its correspondence with the United Nations.
He said the family gave Bahel a cell phone so hundreds of calls related to Bahel's work for the Kohli businesses would not be seen by other U.N. execus.
Kohli also testified he bribed two U.N. procurement officers tivewith a $6,000 night on the town that included 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.
The star witness admitted that he had duped prosecutors until three days before trial, when he revealed that he had failed to tell them that he hired a prostitute on two occasions in 2005. On cross examination, he said he hid the deeds to keep his wife from finding out.
"What's worse, going to prison or facing your wife?" he was asked by one of Bahel's lawyers.
"I'm debating that," he replied.
Later, he conceded that he might be willing to lie to strangers, a point defense lawyer Richard Herman emphasized in his closing argument when he called Kohli a "serial compulsive liar."
Lawyer says client was framed
"He's willing to lie to strangers," Herman told jurors. "And I don't believe for a moment that any of you jurors know this man."
Herman criticized prosecutors for failing to call Kohli's father or brother as witnesses, and he accused the United Nations of framing Bahel with a "witchhunt" meant to buff the U.N.'s image after scandals including the failed oil-for-food program.
Deputy U.S. Attorney Cathy Seibel told jurors in her closing argument that the government saw no need to call Kohli's father and son to testify because it relied on "clean witnesses."
"The government corroborated Nishan Kohli 86 different ways, and they did it through witnesses who aren't criminals," Seibel said.