Following up on the Tourism expose, ‘Tourism Dept spent Rs 1.35 crore on drinks, pole dancing and Disneyland’ and its subsequent stories in particular ‘Lies exposed on air travel plans’ in which both the Minister for Tourism, Government of Goa and Chief Secretary, Government of Goa had categorically stated that they had travelled on economy class but instead travelled business class; we decided to speak to Vijai Sardesai currently courting controversy over media reports in which a complainant had filed a complaint to the US Embassy that the documents which include a Department of Tourism, Goa letter had been forged by Vijai Sardesai, Akbar Mulla and Rajesh Atmaram Kale.
On the complaint filed, Vijai Sardesai has commented that this is an attempt to malign his image by political rivals. He has presented two letters including a bill from the empanelled agency hired by the Department of Tourism, Government of Goa – MX Advertising Private Ltd and a cheque copy of the payment made to MX Advertising. “I have travelled on my own cost, hence I have been issued a bill and I have subsequently made the payment”
On speaking with Sanjay Dogra via a telephonic conversation, managing director, MX Advertising, confirmed “Yes I have received a payment from Vijai Sardesai of the amount Rs 5,78,524 and he has not issued Vijai Sardesai a receipt as yet and will do so shortly.”
Saying that the possibility of forgery is absurd, Vijai Sardesai produced a letter of the Department of Tourism dated January 27, 2011 in which the Director of Tourism, Swapnil Naik addressed to the Visa Officer of the US Consulate, subject reading ‘Issue of visas to delegates to participate at Roadshow/Press Conference at USA from February 25, 2011 to March 2, 2011. In the letter the names are Nilkanth Halarnkar, Minister for Tourism, Sanjay Srivastava, chief secretary, Government of Goa, Swapnil M Naik, Director of Tourism and Rajesh Kale, assistant tourist officer, Department of Tourism and inform the visa officer that the government representatives will be travelling for road shows to San Francisco on February 22, 2011, Los Angeles February 27, 2011 and Las Vegas on March 2, 2011. It also states that the state government has approved the deputation of the above mentioned four government officials for US road shows. According to Vijai Sardesai, this is the only letter issued by the Department of Tourism and he does not feature anywhere in it.
To substantiate his stance on the issue, he presented us with a letter from Redefine Consulting and Vacations – a US based company – a tour operator associate of MX Advertising that was also issued to the Consul General of the US Consulate in Mumbai stating that a road show is being organized by the Government of Goa on February 25, 2011 in Los Angeles and March 2, 2011 in San Francisco. On the list of names mentioned to travel to the US are Nilkanth Halarnkar, Swapnil Naik, Rajesh Kale, Vijay Sardesai, Akbar Mulla, Sanjay Dogra, Ajit Naik, Shailesh Shetty, Aditi Naik, Usha Sardesai and Urvi Sardesai.
On being asked about his wife and daughter names included for the US travel, Vijai stated that as earlier planned that his family was to travel with him however could not on account his daughters schooling.
Commenting on why the letter was issued as a delegate participating in the road show. Vijai explained that it has been a common practice adopted by the Ministry of Tourism not only in Nilkanth Halarnkar tenure but also his predecessor Mickky Pacheco to invite private business individuals with a keen interest on tourism from Goa for tourism road shows provided they travel on their own expense. And he is keen in tourism related initiatives so he travelled to US.
Vijai Sardesai document of approval are original (Redefine Consulting and Redefine Vacations).However we are awaiting receipt from MX Advertising to substantiate his claim that he has cleared the bill by cheque payment drawn on Saraswat Bank Margao, dated April 3, 2011 and numbered186649 and are still left with the question as to why did a letter show Vijai Sardesai and some family members as delegates of the Goa tourism road show as per the letter from the US tour operator even though Vijai Sardesai claims it is as a private party and not government delegates. On the trip Vijai states that he did indeed meet with Nilkanth Halarnkar and others in US, he has denied any involvement in the strip bar and was not willing to comment or confirm on if the others visited any strip bar. Coincidently because the US operator was the same as the Department of Tourism he too stayed at the same hotels – Beverly Hilton, Venetian Pallazo, Marriotts – as the government officials. However, it does indicate that while he might have paid for his expenses, but being close to government machinery he probably could have availed of some benefits that might have come being a part of the government delegation. As per his own acceptance, “It made sense to go on city tour with the government officials because as an individual you do not get a better service in such tours, and I don’t see anything wrong in that.”
His admission and documents opens a Pandora Box for the Department of Tourism in particular Swapnil Naik and Rajesh Kale since in a Department of Tourism letter to the Visa Officer of the US Consulate it clearly mentions Rajesh Kale as one of the deputed government officers travelling when instead Rajesh Kale was given an Ex-Facto Approval dated March 29, 2011 which was signed by Nilkanth Halankar, Minister for Tourism. Also more importantly our sources in the Director General of Tourism, Union of India have told us that the letter given to them (as it is a government protocol to issue Goa government approved letter to Director General of Tourism, Ministry of External Affairs and Ministry of Economic Affairs) states only three names namely Nilkanth Halarnkar, Sanjay Srivastava and Swapnil Naik and it doesn’t include Rajesh Kale. So it does indicate the letter from the Department of Tourism submitted to us by Vijai knowingly or unknowingly might not be the original, because if it is then the Redefine letter might be an original letter but a cover-up as well. However, the notion of Redefine Vacations letter being a cover-up act is nullified since the Rajesh Kale was not on an official trip and hence he could not be a part of this Department of Tourism letter given to us by Vijai Sardesai.
Secondly if you study both the documents presented you will clearly see the contradictions by Director of Tourism Swapnil Naik and Redefine Vacations. The dates of the roadshows in the Department of Tourism letter is San Francisco February 22, 2011, Los Angeles February 27, 2011, Las Vegas March 2, 2011. In the Redefine letter it states that the dates are Los Angeles February 25, 2011 and San Fransciso March 2, 2011 and no mention of any roadshow in Las Vegas. The question is how can the Director of Tourism make a mistake on the dates of the road shows. Or has Redefine Vacations made the mistake. But if you go by the air-travel arrival and departure you will notice that the delegates entered the Los Angeles on February 17, 2011 and Chief Secretary entered US through the Los Angeles airport on February 21, 2011even though the roadshow as per Swapnil Naik letter states February 22, so what were the officials and delegates doing in LA for four days and they left from San Francisco on March 2, 2011 while Nilkanth Halarnkar left on February 28, 2011 from San Francisco. So how could the Director of Tourism get his very crucial facts wrong.
As the government works overtime to cover its tracks, it is certain that there is a cover-up in place and it originates from the Department of Tourism and GoaChronicle.com will continue to find out more. Please see the letters to understand what we are saying.