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.”