Foreign firms say they still owed millions

Foreign companies are planning legal action against organizers of the New Delhi Commonwealth Games.

Last Updated: Dec 17, 2010, 12:27 PM IST

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 further 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 Summer Olympics in Los
Angeles (1984), Barcelona (1992) and Sydney (2000), and the
2006 Turin Winter Games.

Birch said his company, Spectack, is still 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."

One of the worst affected is Howard & Sons Pyrotechnics,
an Australian company which handled the fireworks displays.

According to a letter sent Tuesday by Howard & Sons to
Gurjot Kaur, chief vigilance officer of the organizing
committee, the company is still owed USD 287,000 and its
equipment is being held in 18 air freight containers.

The company says it needs the equipment urgently for a
number of New Year`s Eve celebrations around Australia and had
to borrow equipment from other firms to produce a Dec. 7 show
in Oman.

Company director Andrew Howard told the AP in a telephone
interview from Sydney on Friday that "it`s unbelievably
frustrating at how simple a process it should be, and how long
the people in Delhi have drawn it out."

Howard added: "It`s ridiculous, the competency and
unprofessionalism of every member of the organizing committee
is absolutely embarrassing.”

"We have had a little bit of a development in the last
five days because Australian government officials have been
assisting us more vigorously. But we are still yet to gain an
airway bill to get our material out of the country. It`s been
going on for 65 days, it should have taken five days. The
amount of incompetence and lack of productivity in the
organizing committee is amazing."

The British high commission in New Delhi has also tried
to intervene, but the impasse continues.

It is unclear who will be responsible for all of the
storage costs.

Birch said the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs
and Trade has advised him 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 but instead
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 USD 15
billion from the estimated USD 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."

Bureau Report

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