Former Council Executive guilty of bribery and corruption

Praneeta Mahajan
Hamilton, December 14, 2022

A former Westland District Council executive who received bribes in exchange for helping associates secure lucrative Council contracts has been found guilty of Serious Fraud Office corruption charges.

Former Westland District Council Group Manager of District Assets Vivek Goel was found guilty of 14 charges of corruption and bribery of an official, four charges of corrupt use of official information and two charges of obtaining by deception following an eight-week trial at the Christchurch High Court on Tuesday, December 13, 2022.

Mr Goel oversaw procurement for Council assets and was responsible for 67% of the Council’s spending.

By giving advice, sharing confidential information and helping to draft tenders, Mr Goel abused his position within the Council to ensure a number of contracts were awarded to companies he had relationships with outside of work.

The Director of one of these companies, Amar Singh of ANA Group Limited, paid Mr Goel cash bribes in exchange for being awarded a series of asset management contracts valued at almost $500,000. Mr Singh was found guilty on 14 charges of corruption and bribery of an official and one charge of obtaining by deception. He was also found guilty on nine charges of obstructing an SFO investigation by providing false or misleading information.

Other contracts targeted

Other contracts targeted by Mr Goel’s offending were for a Wastewater Treatment Plant at Franz Josef and upgrades to the Kumara and Whataroa Water Treatment Plants.

Techno-Economic Services (TES India) was selected for the multi-million dollar Franz Josef project, which did not go ahead and was subsequently subject to an enquiry by the Auditor-General. TES (NZ) won the Kumara and Whataroa contract, which was cancelled after the SFO investigation commenced and later awarded to another company.

Ashish Sevta, also of ANA Group, was found not guilty on one charge of obtaining by deception in relation to the Kumara and Whataroa contract.

 

“These were critical infrastructure projects which had implications for the health and well-being of the local community. By exploiting procurement processes designed to ensure public funds achieve the best outcome, Mr Goel put personal gain above the well-being of the community he was employed to serve as an official. This was an egregious breach of the trust placed in him by his employer and the public,” SFO Director Karen Chang said.

Sustained and deliberate

She said that the offending was a sustained, deliberate effort to take advantage of the procurement process that Mr Goel himself had helped to draft for the Council.

“He assisted in creating tender documents, gave out confidential information and in one case took documents from a rival company’s tender to use in a submission. He had close personal connections with the companies involved yet did not declare a conflict of interest at any time. The defendants went to great lengths to hide their offending, including communicating through personal and dummy email addresses, WhatsApp and manipulating documents.  Their actions were harmful to the community, the Council and to other companies which invested significant resources in preparing genuine tenders while believing they were on a level playing field,” Ms Chang said.

Mr Goel and Mr Singh are scheduled to appear for sentencing on 22 March 2023.

About the Serious Fraud Office 

The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) was established in 1990 under the Serious Fraud Office Act.

The SFO is the lead law enforcement agency for investigating and prosecuting serious or complex financial crimes including bribery and corruption.

The presence of an agency dedicated to white-collar crime is integral to New Zealand’s reputation for transparency, integrity, and low levels of corruption.  The SFO also leads fraud prevention efforts in the public sector and is working to strengthen the sector’s resilience to fraud and corruption through its Counter Fraud Centre – Tauārai Hara Tāware (CFC).

The SFO focuses on a relatively small number of cases that have a disproportionately high impact on the economic and financial well-being of New Zealanders.

Investigative Powers

The SFO operates under two sets of investigative powers.

Part 1 of the SFO Act provides that it may act where the Director “has reason to suspect that an investigation into the affairs of any person may disclose serious or complex fraud.”

Part 2 of the SFO Act provides the SFO with more extensive powers where: “…the Director has reasonable grounds to believe that an offence involving serious or complex fraud may have been committed…”

Praneeta Mahajan is an Indian Newslink Reporter based in Hamilton.

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