The crime of Lalit Gadhia Money launderer: Illegal fund-raising was to help India in Congress.

May 12, 1996

THERE ARE COUNTRIES where money must be paid to buy influence to get heard. It is dismaying that the U.S. is one of them. Governments of the poorest people think they need to pay high-priced public relations or law firms to make their case to the American people or government. Usually they could do it more persuasively themselves.

The worst case would be a violation of law. Baltimore lawyer Lalit H. Gadhia, in pleading guilty to election fraud, admitted facts which suggest that someone in India's embassy thought the U.S. to be a most corrupt country. That speaks ill of India and the U.S.

Mr. Gadhia admitted taking $46,000 from the official to reimburse Indian-Americans he persuaded to make political contributions to Congress members of his choice seeking re-election in 1994. It is illegal for a foreign citizen to make a political contribution in a U.S. election and illegal to falsify the name of the contributor.

India has legitimate interests in Washington and is entitled to make its case to members of Congress. That is what its embassy is for. Its chief concern has been to deter the U.S. from arming Pakistan. But contributing to supposedly grateful congressmen is not the right or legal way to go about it.

Recipients said they did not know the money came from the Indian government and would not have accepted had they known. This is probably true. In that sense, India's money was ill-spent. But Mr. Gadhia was flying high. He became campaign treasurer for Parris Glendening's run for governor and was named assistant secretary of the Maryland Department of Economic and Employment Development.

His day in U.S. District Court in Baltimore came a year after a Sun investigation into his fund-raising. Until last year, he was an immigrant-American success story. Now he faces a possible prison term.

He has disgraced his former country and his current country. India, which will have an even harder job of representation in Washington after implementing the policies of the winning party in its recent election, showed a demeaning view of the U.S. through the actions of its official, however mistaken he might have been.

But Americans, in addition to castigating foreigners, should reflect soberly on the mores of Washington that led a diplomat of a great nation to believe that this was the accepted way to promote its interests there.

Pub Date: 5/12/96

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