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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, June 9, 2007

Gov. Lingle's top aide helped FBI sting

By Rick Daysog and Peter Boylan
Advertiser Staff Writers

Bob Awana

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Gov. Linda Lingle's chief of staff, Bob Awana, was the subject of an alleged extortion attempt by an Indian national who is now in federal custody.

Rajdatta Patkar, 44, has been held at the Federal Detention Center near the Honolulu International Airport since March, when he was extradited from Tokyo, where he lives.

Honolulu-based FBI agents took Patkar into custody and seized his computer and other business files after searching his Tokyo home in March.

A federal grand jury indictment charges that Patkar attempted to extort $35,000 from Awana in September 2005. The indictment, which was filed in April 26, 2006, but only recently unsealed, refers to Awana by the initials R.A.

The indictment did not provide details of the alleged extortion attempt.

People familiar with the investigation said the alleged extortion was in connection with a trip to the Philippines.

Pamela Byrne, a federal public defender representing Patkar, declined comment but an attorney representing Patkar's family in New Delhi, India, Nawal Kishore Jha, denied that Patkar attempted to extort money.

Awana said he reported the matter to federal officials and has cooperated with the investigation. He said the FBI made a $4,000 payment to Patkar as part of a sting operation.

Awana said he informed Lingle immediately after the alleged extortion attempt but he declined to provide details, saying an investigation is pending.

Lingle spokesman Russell Pang declined to comment late last night.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Clare Connors could not be reached for immediate comment.

Patkar's trial is scheduled for Aug. 21.

Patkar, who has lived in Japan for the past 20 years, develops Web sites for a Japanese company that exports cars from Japan, said his brother, Charudatta Patkar of Bombay, India.

Rajdatta Patkar is a graduate of the Indian Institute of Technology and has served as translator for a number of India officials visiting Japan, including former Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao, said the brother.

Charudatta Patkar said his older brother is innocent and that he has never been arrested or charged with a crime.

He said Awana attempted to pay his elder brother $4,000 through a debit card.

"He's a good person. He doesn't want to hurt anybody," Charudatta Patkar said of his brother.

Rajdatta Patkar's extradition and detention in Hawai'i have been a subject of court battles in India. His family opposed his extradition in India but that nation's Supreme Court rejected the petition last month.

Reach Rick Daysog at rdaysog@honoluluadvertiser.com and Peter Boylan at pboylan@honoluluadvertiser.com.