Nine months after India hosted the Commonwealth Games, companies around the world are still owed tens of millions of pounds in outstanding payments. They say they have run into a brick wall in dealing with officials in Delhi, where the issue had become entangled in a wide-ranging criminal investigation.
Companies that provided services ranging from broadcasting to biographical information about athletes say requests for payments have become lost in a bureaucratic jungle. At least one company was forced into receivership as a result, while others have had to lay off staff. Diplomatic sources have put the amount of money still outstanding at £50m. One British company, Satellite Information Services (SIS), says it is owed £15m for its provision of broadcasting services for the games, held last October. The company's chief financial officer, Jim Campbell, said despite SIS's performance being roundly praised, only half the agreed fee of £30m had been paid.
Furthermore, he said the company had endured what he termed a smear campaign within the Indian media and had been inaccurately criticised in a report commissioned by the Delhi authorities. "Operationally speaking, we had a very successful games. Now we are sitting here with a considerable amount of money outstanding," he said.
This week, the plight of SIS and other UK companies was formally raised in parliament. In a written question, the former sports minister Gerry Sutcliffe asked the Foreign Secretary, William Hague: "What steps his department are taking to assist British companies, such as SIS, who are yet to receive payment from the Indian government for contracts relating to the 2010 Commonwealth Games?"
Foreign diplomats in Delhi say they have repeatedly raised the issue with Indian officials. Earlier this year, eight nations – Australia, Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Switzerland – jointly wrote to the Sports Minister, Ajay Maken, and the Finance Minister, Pranab Mukherjee. There has been no formal response. The British High Commissioner, Sir Richard Stagg, said yesterday: "We are very concerned. David Cameron has raised this with the Indian Prime Minister. We think it's profoundly unsatisfactory and contrary to all the norms of proper commercial relations."
Estimates suggest a minimum of 20 companies are owed outstanding sums. One of them, InfoStrada Sports, is a multinational company that provided various services, including the reporting of events. A company spokesman, Steve Dettre, said the equivalent of £370,000 remained unpaid. "They keep changing the goalposts and saying we did not deliver certain things. We made all our deliveries," he said.
Those trying to recoup money say the issue has now become bogged down in the criminal investigation into the games. The chairman of the games organising committee, Suresh Kalmadi, and other senior officials have been arrested on charges of corruption.
An investigation carried out by a former government auditor, VK Shunglu, made various allegations about several international companies. British officials say they have seen no evidence to support claims of wrongdoing by UK companies. Among the allegations are that SIS is an illegal company and that it "colluded" with a state broadcaster in order to net profits of £18m. SIS has strongly denied the allegations.
Another problem for foreign companies is that their contacts were held with a variety of Indian public bodies. In January, when he was appointed sports minister, Mr Maken vowed that the payments would be sorted out within 10 days.