The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), since 2011, has been sitting on an inquiry into the alleged bribery of Air India officials by an Indian-born Canadian middleman, involving a $100 million contract for a facial recognition technology. And this even though, in 2013, the Indian-born Canadian middleman, Nazir Karigar, was sent to prison for three years by the Superior Court of Justice, Ontario after he was found guilty of offering to bribe the then UPA Civil Aviation Minister and senior Air India officials. The judgement quotes Nazir Karigar as having said that “They (the company) paid $250,000 … (for a) minister to ‘bless’ the system.” Although Praful Patel did not reply to the emails sent by this correspondent until the time this report went to press, sources close to him denied involvement in the case and the allegation that he took any money. They said that as Civil Aviation Minister he never interfered in professional decisions taken by officials.
The contract was never executed, despite the UPA government issuing the tender and the company Cryptometrics Canada, represented by middleman, Nazir Karigar, getting the tender on behalf of the company. This was because an Air India officer objected in writing against the way the tender was given. When Karigar was unsuccessful in getting the contract inked, Cryptometrics, as given in the judgement, hired Shailesh Govindia, CEO of Emerging Markets Group (EMG) at the Cryptometrics Inc. office in New York, US in another attempt to close the Air India deal. The judgement records that it was agreed that Cryptometrics Inc. (USA) would give “$500,000 USD…to Praful Patel” and another “$1.5 million USD” “after the contract was approved/signed”. These charges have been denied by sources close to the Nationalist Congress Party leader who dismiss them as baseless. It needs to be noted that nowhere has it been conclusively stated that any bribe was actually paid to Mr Patel. These were merely allegations by a wrongdoer.
Praful Patel was Minister of Civil Aviation between 2004 and January 2011.
As per the facts of the case, as listed in the court judgement, a Canadian based high-tech security company, Cryptometrics Canada, was contacted by Nazir Karigar in June 2005. He told them that he was the owner of IPCON, a firm that did business in India and that he had good contacts with some Air India officials and had found out that the airline was looking to acquire technology to deal with airline security issues, particularly passenger identification fraud and possibly other related matters such as no-fly lists.
Later, discussion ensued as to whether Cryptometrics’ facial recognition technology, based on a science known as biometrics, could provide a solution to the airline. Subsequently, in September 2005, Karigar and his colleague Mehul Shah met the vice president of Cyptometrics, Robert Bell in Ottawa. It was decided that Karigar and Shah would help Cryptometrics obtain this tender from Air India in return for 30% of the expected revenue stream.
Later, in September 2005, Bell travelled to Mumbai to explore the project where Karigar introduced Bell to senior Air India officials, including Hasan Gafoor, the former Mumbai police commissioner who was then Air India’s Director of Security, the court judgement writes.
As per the judgement, over the course of 2005, Karigar forwarded to Bell considerable information pertaining to Air India’s expected requirements, including what might be characterised as inside
information about proposed tender terms and competitors. By December 2005, Bell and Cryptometrics Canada were also provided with a copy of the draft tender, two months before the tender was officially issued.
The judgement says that in January 2006, Gafoor along with his colleague, one Captain Mascarenhas travelled with Karigar to visit Cryptometrics Canada. Subsequently, a company named Cryptometrics India was established under the direction of Karigar in which he was made the executive director.
Later, in February 2006, Air India released its official Request for Proposal (RFP) to supply a biometric facial passenger ID security system. Shortly afterwards a revised RFP was issued by Air India extending the implementation period for the contract from three to five years and indicating that the lowest price bidder would receive the contract.
Subsequently, under Karigar’s direction and on his advice, the Cryptometrics team developed a second bid to be presented under the name of IPCON (which was Karigar’s firm) to create the appearance of a separate competitive bidder using Cryptometrics Canada technology, but at a much higher price. This was designed to give the false impression that there existed a competitive bidding situation. On 19 June 2006, Karigar e-mailed Bell and Dario Barini, COO of Cryptometrics, to get $200,000 for Captain Mascarenhas, says the court judgement. The evidence reveals that $200,000 was transferred from Cryptometrics US to Karigar’s bank account in Mumbai and “there is strong circumstantial evidence…that this money was intended for the purpose of bribing Captain Mascarenhas”, the court said.
On or around 3 August, 2006, IPCON, Karigar’s own company and Cryptometrics were short-listed as the only two qualified bidders after which Karigar informed Dario Barini that the “CMD” was to be in New York and wanted $5000 spending money. He further stated that the Captain and the CMD were giving pressure about the “shares”, lists the court judgement.
On 3 September 2006, Berini e-mailed Bell a copy of the draft Air India-Cryptometrics Canada agreement.
The court judgement writes, “On April 20, 2007, Mr. Karigar sent an e-mail saying that he had met with ‘PP’. Mr. Karigar stated that he and ‘PP’ discussed the “increments” and that the project would be cleared right away”. It is pertinent to mention that the contract for which the bribe was allegedly offered was never executed by Air India.
The court judgement also lists that on 15 May 2007, Karigar and Dario Berini met with Annie Dubé at the Consulate General for Canada in Mumbai. During the meeting, Karigar stated that Cryptometrics had paid a bribe to a minister through an agent in order to clear the process and obtain the Air India contract. “Mr. Karigar also stated that their agent confirmed the bribe money had been received” by the minister. “Mr. Karigar did not disclose the identity of the agent, nor the amount of money that was paid.”
Karigar also talked about corruption in general in India and specifically how government figures would get up to 8% of the value of a contract as a bribe payment.
The court judgement then says, “On July 12, 2007, Mr. Karigar sent an e-mail to Berini containing the following comments: ‘After PP took the money, I thought all was done and went ahead{…}’. Karigar added: ‘I guess by now you know why Patel has the Cryptometrics Project on hold! {…}’. Karigar made suggestions on how to get ‘PP’ back on board with Cryptometrics and stated the following: ‘someone needs to get all the separate thinking on one track and make it work… will need the backing of Thulasidas and Mehra, if you are in touch with Bankoti, ask him to dig out more about it.’ Mr. Karigar asked Dario Berini: ‘What have you done about the funds with PP? Have you asked and got them back?’”
However, relations between Cryptometrics and Karigar soured and in
August 2007 one person using the name “Buddy” sent an e-mail to the Fraud Section (FCPA) of the US Department of Justice stating he had information about US citizens paying bribes to foreign officers.
Karigar later admitted during the trial that it was he who had sent the mail.
The email written to the Justice Department by Karigar, as reproduced in the judgement says:
“There was a tender put out by Air India (Government of India enterprise) for a bio-metric security system, Cryptometrics bid on the system.
“1. Cryptometrics Paid USD 200,000 to make sure that only 2 companies were technically qualifieds.
“2. They paid $250,000 for the minister to ‘bless’ the system. There are documents executed to return the funds if the contract is not awarded. There are recordings asking for the money back.
“3. The People involved are mr. Robert Barra, US citizen, CEO of Cryptometrics and Dario Berini, COO of Cryptometrics, also US Citizen.
“4. I am a Canadian Citizen on contract with the Canadian subsidiary of Cryptometrics.
“5. What about my immunity?”
The court judgement goes on to say: “As events transpired, the contract was never awarded to Cryptometrics Canada or any entity represented by the accused. However, there is a significant body of evidence that Mr. Karigar and certain others agreed to offer bribes to a targeted group of Air India officials” and others.
The judgement adds, “In my view, the foregoing events occurred as proven in the documentary evidence and lead to the inescapable conclusion, or proof beyond a reasonable doubt, that the accused conspired with Messrs. Berini and Barra (Robert Barra, CEO of Cryptometrics) representing Cryptometrics Inc. and Cryptometrics Canada Inc. and certain of his Mumbai based colleagues, to offer bribes to certain targeted Air India officials and a minister for the purpose of obtaining the Air India contract.
“The evidence in this case satisfies me beyond a reasonable doubt that all of the contemplated recipients of bribes, as identified in the spreadsheets and in the electronic communications between the accused and his co-conspirators, were employees of Air India or the Minister of Civil Aviation himself.”
These charges are denied as wholly baseless by sources close to Patel.
After the falling out with Karigar, Cryptometrics, as given in the judgement, met in November 2007 one Shailesh Govindia, CEO of Emerging Markets Group (EMG) at the Cryptometrics Inc. office in New York, US and hired him in another attempt to close the Air India deal. “To make this happen, it was agreed that Cryptometrics Inc. (USA) would initially transfer $650,000 USD to Govindia: $500,000 USD would be given to Praful Patel and $150,000 USD was for Govindia’s expenses.
“After the contract was approved/signed, Praful Patel would receive $1.5 million USD and Govindia would get $250,000 USD. They also discussed a ‘deferred success fee’ of $2 million USD for Praful Patel
and $1 million USD for Govindia/EMG.”
On 9 November 2007, $650,000 USD was transferred from Cryptometrics Inc. (USA) bank account to the account of EMG.
When asked, Jitendra Bhargava, former Executive Director of Air India, who has mentioned this bribery incident in his book, The Descent of Air India, said, “If Air India has no need for biometrics system even10 years after it was tendered, it is important to identify who was pushing for this deal.”
Only a full CBI investigation will show what transpired,thereby clearing the name of those who may have been wrongly implicated by the Canadian middleman, which is why there is concern at the slow progress of investigations into the matter.



Dear Mr. Mishra,

Thank you for your email dated May 13, 2016.  The matter referred to by yourself, is totally untrue and seems to be a matter of impersonation.  Enclosed herewith are copies of two letters which are self-explanatory.

Thanking you.


Champa Bharatwaj

Secretary to Shri Praful Patel


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