By Duncan Mackay
British Sports Internet Writer of the Year

Swiss_Timing_at_Delhi_2010February 23 - A number of leading Delhi Commonwealth Games officials, including the two closest aides of chairman Suresh Kalmadi, have been arrested in connection with a $24 million (£15 million) contract awarded to Swiss Timing.

Organising committee Secretary General Lalit Bhanot and the director general, VK Verma, are accused of financial irregularities linked to the Games.

These are the most high-profile arrests in the ongoing investigation into allegations of corruption over last year's multi-billion dollar event in Delhi that was beset by problems in the build-up.

Both men deny the allegations but will be formally charged tomorrow when they are due to appear in court.

Bhanot was second-in-command at Delhi 2010 to Kalmadi, the President of the Indian Olympic Association and one of the country's leading politicans who is also being investigated.

In December the CBI registered cases against the two men of criminal conspiracy, cheating and corruption in relation to the case.

A spokesman for India's Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) alleged that Bhanot and Verma are accused of inflating costs while procuring timers and scoring equipment from a Swiss manufacturer, Swiss Timing, sister company of Omega - one of the International Olympic Committee's global sponsors - allegedly costing the Government nearly $24m (£15m).

"The CBI has today arrested the director general [Verma] and the then secretary-general [Bhanot] of the Organising Committee, Commonwealth Games, 2010 in the on-going investigation of a Commonwealth Games case pertaining to procurement of timing, scoring and result (TSR) system," CBI spokesperson Vinita Thakur said.

"CBI had earlier registered a case on the allegations that certain OC (Organising Committee) officials had entered into a criminal conspiracy with representatives of a Swiss Company and awarded the contact for TSR system at an exorbitant cost of Rs.107 crore (£15 million/$24 million) in a pre-mediated manner, thereby causing huge loss to the Government."

Lalit_Bhanot_in_front_of_Delhi_2010_logoBhanot (pictured) was the chief spokesman of the Organising Committee during the Games last October and earned worldwide notoriety when, during the row over the state of the Athletes Village on the eve of the event, he claimed that Indians can tolerate a lower level of hygiene and cleanliness than people from other countries.

Bhanot and Verma, along with Kalmadi, were sacked from the Organising Committee last month when Ajay Maken became India's new Sports Minister in a cabinet reshuffle replacing M.S. Gill.

Kalmadi had also been questioned by the CBI last month and his premises in Delhi, Pune and Mumbai were searched.

Four other close aides of Kalmadi, including T.S. Darbari, the joint director general in the Organging Commitee, and Sanjay Mahendroo, the deputy director general, had already been arrested.

The CBI spokesman refused to comment on whether Kalmadi would be the next Commonwealth Games official to be arrested.

Verma was also quizzed by the Enforcement Directorate inn October last year for his alleged role in the financial irregularities in the Queen's Baton Relay event in London in 2009.

Swiss Timing has strongly rejected all accusations against it.

At the heart of the claims is concern that the Delhi Organising Committee overlooked a cheaper tender from Spanish firm MSL for the contract to provide the timing services for the Games.

It claimed the contract awarded to Swiss Timing was five times the cost of a similar contract for the Melbourne Commonwealth Games in 2006.

Its director general, Christophe Berthaud, said that they were "absolutely wrong".

At the time the allegations Swiss Timing promised to cooperate fully with the Indian authorities.

"This contract has been awarded after a transparent and standard procedure that is common to all these kinds of sports events as a result of a regular tender process managed by the Organising Committee," they said in a statement issued at the time.

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December 2010: Olympic timekeepers charged over Commonwealth Games corruption