Firms: Still owed millions from Commonwealth Games

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LONDON- Foreign companies are planning legal action against organizers of the New Delhi Commonwealth Games, claiming they are still owed millions for their work on the opening and closing ceremonies and are being blocked from taking their equipment out of India.

The complaints by the international firms and contractors follow allegations of corruption and mismanagement that plagued the games and cast doubt on India’s ambitions of bidding for the Olympics.

Ric Birch, the executive producer of the Delhi ceremonies, said about 15 companies are affected.

“We did the job for the sake of the Commonwealth Games and for the sake of India,” the Australian-born Birch told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. “We all had government contracts and fully expected that those contracts would be honored. I thought we could trust them. As things have turned out, we can’t.

“They haven’t returned calls, haven’t paid their bills, haven’t answered e-mails. They haven’t done anything,” said Birch, who directed ceremonies at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, 1992 Barcelona, 2000 Sydney and 2006 Turin Games.

Birch said his company, Spectack, is owed the final 15 percent of his New Delhi contract, or “hundreds of thousands” of dollars, that was due on Oct. 31.

The total amount at stake among the 15 companies is “several million dollars in fees and tens of millions in the value of the equipment that is just sitting there,” Birch said.

Repeated attempts were made by the AP to reach top Commonwealth Games organizing committee officials, including Suresh Kalmadi, Lalit Bhanot and A.K. Mattoo. Calls were not answered and messages were not returned.

Hardest hit are some of the companies that brought in lighting, audio, projection, communication and other equipment, including firms from Australia, Britain, Italy, Sweden and Germany.

According to documents seen by the AP, the companies have been unable to re-export their material, which remains stored in freight containers.

“There’s literally millions of dollars worth of gear which is still stuck in containers in India,” Birch said. “No one’s doing anything and it just sits there. It’s absolutely standard practice that the gear is brought in without duty and goes straight out afterwards.”

Howard & Sons Pyrotechnics, an Australian company which handled the fireworks displays, is among those impacted.

According to a letter sent Tuesday by Howard & Sons to Gurjot Kaur, chief vigilance officer of the organizing committee, the company is still owed $287,000 and its equipment is being held in 18 air freight containers. The company says it urgently needs the equipment for a show in Oman and New Year’s Eve celebrations in Australia.

The situation is “causing major logistical and financial issues for the company and those projects,” company director Andrew Howard said in the letter.

The Australian and British high commissions in New Delhi have tried to intervene. It is unclear who will be responsible for all of the storage costs.

Birch said the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade advised him that the companies are entitled to legal recourse.

“That’s the next step,” he said. “We’re going to have to go to legal action next.”

India had hoped to boost its reputation on the world stage by hosting the Oct. 3-14 Commonwealth Games. Instead, it was humbled by allegations of corruption, delays and cost overruns.

The buildup was marred by construction setbacks, the collapse of a foot bridge and the discovery of filthy conditions in the athletes’ village just days before the games were to begin.

The cost of hosting the event soared to around $15 billion from the estimated $412 million. The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party alleged millions were siphoned by companies run by relatives of games officials.

Last month, Indian investigators filed lawsuits against two companies over alleged corruption involving the games and arrested two former organizing committee officials.

India’s ruling Congress Party fired Kalmadi, the organizing committee chief, as its parliament secretary. Kalmadi has kept his committee position while investigations continue.

“India was making claims that it would bid for an Olympics,” Birch said. “I have to say if this is the way an organizing committee for the Olympics is formed, there’s absolutely no way. It was bad enough for the Commonwealth Games, but it would be much worse for the Olympics.”
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This post was submitted by Mudit Agrawal.

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