Indian-American businessman heard Obama seat price talks: Report

January 25th, 2009 - 9:55 pm ICT by IANS  

Barack ObamaWashington, Jan 25 (IANS) As Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, accused of trying to auction President Barack Obama’s senate seat, faces the start of his impeachment trial Monday, an Indian-American businessman is said to be emerging as a critical figure in the investigation.Raghuveer Nayak, 54, a top fundraiser for the governor, allegedly heard him and his closest aides discuss the price they hoped to extract for the Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama, the Washington Post said Sunday.

The governor was arrested last month and accused by federal prosecutors of trying to sell the seat to the highest bidder.

Nayak was an early Blagojevich supporter, repeatedly tapping his affluent Indian-American friends for campaign donations and serving along with then state Senator Obama on the governor’s health care transition team, the Post said.

Nayak was close to Democrat US Representative Jesse L. Jackson Jr. and was a business partner of Jackson’s brother Jonathan.

Federal investigators are probing whether Nayak, a millionaire owner of several surgery centres, scrambled to raise money for Blagojevich to try to ensure that Jackson would be appointed to the seat.

Jackson has acknowledged that he was lobbying for the Senate seat but said he never asked Nayak or anyone else to raise money in exchange for the job. Jackson’s office prepared draft recommendation letters this fall for Nayak and others to send to the governor.

“The Congressman was keenly aware that Mr. Nayak was a prodigious fundraiser for damn near anyone who was running for public office,” the daily quoted one close Jackson ally as saying. “But he was never expecting any quid pro quo.”

Nayak was working to raise at least $500,000 for Blagojevich. He has denied impropriety but has declined to discuss specifics. He is believed to be in discussions with US Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the Post said.

Federal prosecutors say they have tape recordings of the governor and “Fundraiser A”, the governor’s brother, Robert Blagojevich, talking about an emissary for Jackson who, they believed, was willing to raise at least $500,000 to help win the seat for Jackson.

The governor asks his brother, according to the filings, to ask the emissary in person for upfront donations. Nayak is only one of the politically connected people Blagojevich talked to or mentioned in the taped conversations.

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