Louis Berger – a global professional services corporation helping infrastructure and development clients – is a company facing multi-crore bribery charges in the states of Goa and Assam, was alleged of service tax evasion and fraudulent service tax reimbursement by the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI), and was debarred by the World Bank for allegedly engaging in corrupt practices in two World Bank-financed projects in Vietnam.
Despite its controversial history, the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) has approved its presence in the consortium that has bagged a contract for project and construction management services for the Metro-4 (Wadala-Thane-Kasarvadavali) corridor in Mumbai, Hindustan Times (HT) reported.
Pravin Darade, additional metropolitan commissioner, MMRDA, told Hindustan Times (HT) that the company is not yet blacklisted.
“The company has not been blacklisted and it is a part of a consortium. Even if the state government takes action now, we can ask the consortium to look for a different partner.”
Darade also said that the project was being led the DB Group and that Louis Berger was just a part of the consortium.
A spokesperson for Louis Berger told HT that the company had turned itself in to US authorities in 2015 and removed managers involved in corrupt practices.
"We remain committed to cooperate fully with Indian authorities in their investigation. Louis Berger, operating under a new leadership in India, is committed to ethical business practices, having invested more than $25 million over seven years to bring in world-class compliance systems, policies and ethical standards." - A spokesperson for Louis Berger
Here’s a look at some of the cases the company is dealing with.
According to The Wire, the United States Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against Louis Berger in July 2015 under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). Between 1998 to 2010, the firm allegedly paid bribes worth $976,6630 to unknown officials in the Assam and Goa governments for water management consultancy projects.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Goa ordered the crime branch to file an FIR against unknown ministers in the former Congress government. The BJP also pressurised the Assam government to act on the case before the state elections.
The BJP had reportedly taken a public stand against Guwahati Development and Planning Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma. Before the elections, the BJP had released an 11-page booklet against Sarma, who left the Congress and joined the BJP soon after.
In October 2017,, the CBI filed a 40-page FIR against unknown officials of Guwahati Metropolitan Development Authority and Louis Berger in New Delhi.
In Goa, the firm allegedly paid a hefty sum to Goa ministers to win consultancy business for a water augmentation and sewerage project costing Rs 1,031-crore and funded by Japan International Cooperation Agency. Former CM Digambar Kamat was named for his alleged involvement in the case and was also accused of destroying evidence.
Allegations by the NHAI
According to another report by The Wire, Louis Berger, along with the URS and Scott Wilson Groups, was accused of service tax evasion or fraudulent service tax reimbursements. However, most of these probes have been hastily closed by tax intelligence agencies under less-than-ideal circumstances, or not taken to their logical conclusions, claims the report.
World Bank Controversy
In 2015, the World Bank announced that it has debarred Louis Berger for one year over allegations of corruption in two of its projects in Vietnam.
The bank also imposed a one-year conditional non-debarment on Berger Group Holdings, Inc. (BGH), Louis Berger’s corporate parent.
According to a report by the institution, in two World Bank-financed projects in Vietnam, the Third Rural Transport and Da Nang Priority Infrastructure Investment Projects, the company made gave illegal gratification to government officials. In addition, BGH failed to effectively supervise Louis Berger and thus was held responsible for its misconduct.
(With inputs from Hindustan Times, The Wire and The World Bank)
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