The Indian High Commission in London has been left trawling through a vast cluster of emails after its junior clerk Raju Sebastian said he had “no recollection” of having recommended a British firm that received nearly a quarter of a million pounds from the Commonwealth Games Organising Committee (OC).
Suresh Kalmadi, OC chairman, had on Saturday said they chose London-based A.M. Films to provide services during the Queen’s Baton Relay in London last October after the firm was recommended to it by the high commission, specifically Sebastian. The mission had responded that Sebastian was far too junior to be authorised to make any such recommendation.
On Sunday, Kalmadi released copies of the recommendatory email. “The Organising Committee would like to clarify that we had written to Mr Vikrant Ratan, first secretary (protocol) of the Indian High Commission, to provide us the list of agencies for transportation, accommodation and other services,” his statement said.
“In response, Mr Raju Sebastian, giving reference to our mail to First Secretary Vikrant Ratan, informed that the approved vendors for transport are AM Car and Van and the Chauffeur Company,” Kalmadi’s statement said. (AM Car and Van Hire is a sister company of A.M. Films.).
However, the amount of £247,000 paid to AM Films by the OC was not sanctioned by a legal contract - an irregularity that came to the notice of British tax authorities, who alerted the Indian High Commission.
In turn, the high commission passed on the query - in confidence - to the sports ministry in New Delhi in June. Kalmadi also said the rates were approved by the High Commission.
“He (Sebastian) also indicated the approved rates of the High Commission for accommodation and transportation.”
“In view of the clarification which clearly indicates that the Indian High Commission had recommended AM Car and Vans to the Organising Committee for QBR Launch Function at London, it is requested that the factual position is projected,” the OC chairman said.
However, the mail from which Sebastian had replied was not an official one.
At a preliminary investigation held on Saturday, Sebastian told senior diplomats that he could not remember having sent any email to the Organising Committee.
“We will continue to examine the emails, including private email Ids, in the light of the new information, but so far we have found nothing on the official ID,” said a diplomat.
“That person says he has no recollection.”
Diplomats in London are also intrigued about how these companies, owned by an Indian-origin man, could have been recommended as they are not on the high commission’s approved list.
“The email clearly establishes Sebastian was replying on behalf of the first secretary (protocol),” said Lalit Bhanot, Organising Committee secretary general and spokesperson on Sunday.
“The mayor of London too had known about the firm. After all we were organizing the event in the Buckingham Palace.” Though he didn’t want to talk about whether the mails were sent from official mail or not, he said, “We have the mails and that shows we have not acted without the knowledge of the High Commission.”