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Indian-American emerges as key figure in corruption trial

July 21, 2010 15:31 IST

Raghuveer Nayak, an Indian-American Chicago businessman, has emerged as a key figure in the corruption trial of former governor Rod Blagojevich at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse in Chicago on Wednesday.

Rod's brother, Robert, testified as a co-defendant in the trial that he didn't take a $6 million (about Rs 28.4 crore) offer from Nayak seriously, saying that he and others in a group of Indian fund-raisers advocating for Jesse Jackson Jr for the Senate were "awkward and clumsy and naive", according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

Prosecutor Chris Niewoehner reminded Robert that he had at first called Nayak an "amusing gentleman" and a "likable exaggerator".

A December 4 phone call between the brothers shed more light.

Rod said he was "elevating" Jackson in his estimation and that he was looking for something "tangible upfront" from Nayak since the Washington lobby members was "freaking out".

Robert said Nayak and Rajinder Bedi, a prominent businessman in Chicago's Indian community and an international trade director in the former Blagojevich government, met him at a restaurant in October 2008 and offered to raise $6 million in exchange for appointing Jesse Jackson Jr in the vacant senate seat of then president-elect Barack Obama.

Blagojevich went on to arrange a meeting with Nayak the following day, but hastily called it off following news reports that revealed the Blagojeviches were being taped by federal investigators.

Blagojevich's phones and those of his closest confidants were also tapped.

Robert further testified that on December 8, 2008, someone from the governor's team had the Illinois state police sweep the Friends of Blagojevich office for bugs but Robert said that he wasn't concerned.

Although Nayak and Bedi have not been charged, their taped phone conversations have been played in the court before Judge James Zagel.

"Having grown up in an ethnic family" -- the Blagojeviches' father was a Serbian immigrant -- "I can see how they're very clumsy," the Chicago Sun-Times quoted Robert as saying.

"That's just how I viewed the Indians -- very awkward and clumsy and naive in our political system. And I put Nayak at the top of the chart.

Niewoehner asked if Nayak was "naive" to believe that $6 million could sway the governor.

"He was naive to think he could approach a guy like me and get it done," Robert answered.

Meanwhile, Judge Zagel ordered the court adjourned for the day after Rod's lawyers -- the father-and-son team of Sam Adam Sr and Sam Adam Jr said they planned to rest the case without having Rod to testify, something Blagojevich had vehemently promised to do.

Blagojevich's lawyers disagree whether he should testify in his own defense.

While Sam Adams Sr thinks that the ex-governor doesn't need to because he does not think that the prosecutors proved their case, Sam Adams Jr said he promised jurors that

Blagojevich will testify and thus he should, but the decision is eventually Blagojevich's.

Rod has repeatedly defended his innocence in improvised news conferences, on Twitter, Larry King Live and even on Donald Trump's Show 'Celebrity Apprentice', it still remains unclear whether he will testify.

The trial is set to begin on Thursday morning and only if Blagojevich testifies will the witnesses be called.
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