External Affairs Minister K Natwar Singh, his son Jagat Singh, former Maharashtra [ Images ] Chief Minister A R Antulay [ Images ], Congress leader from Bihar Subodh Kant Sahay [ Images ] and two other Congressmen visited Baghdad in 2000, an Iraq-based businessman has confirmed to rediff.com.
The Paul A Volcker-led United Nations' Independent Inquiry Committee's report on how former Iraq President Saddam Hussein [ Images ] abused the UN Oil for Food Programme has turned into a huge embarrassment for the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance [ Images ] government and Foreign Minister Natwar Singh.
The report listed Natwar and the Congress party as 'non-contractual beneficiaries' those who were given oil vouchers by Saddam Hussein for sale to international oil companies at a profit.
H S Mejie, businessman with an office in Baghdad, told rediff.com that the Indian foreign minister's son had come looking for business in Iraq. When the Congress delegation and Jagat Singh visited Baghdad, they met Iraq's then Oil Minister Amer Rashid.
Mejie said the Congress delegation put up at Baghdad's Rashid Hotel. Mejie claims Rashid told him, 'Congress leaders have got the contract and oil is being exported.'
Mejie explained that during Saddam's rule it was an open secret that whoever knew him or the oil minister personally would get 'non-contractual vouchers' for supply of oil.
Neither the foreign minister nor his son Jagat were available for comment.
In a media statement from Frankfurt, the foreign minister said, 'I am deeply shocked and outraged by these allegations [of the Volcker report], which are baseless and untrue.'
The Congress has also issued a strongly-worded denial.
Mejie, who has been doing business in Baghdad for the last 25 years, told rediff.com, "This [Volcker's] report is based on an independent inquiry and cannot be dubbed baseless. It is based on facts because the files and documents of the oil marketing wing of Saddam's government were not destroyed. The files were made available to the inquiry committee."
When the United States attacked Iraq, all the ministry buildings were targeted. Except the oil ministry building which was fortified all other ministry buildings were destroyed in the American bombing.
The Volcker report -- based on the Saddam government's files and documents -- speaks volumes about how a network of politicians and businesses profited from the Oil for Food Programme and helped keep Saddam in power.
According to the report, Singh benefited from the sale of 1.9 million of barrels of Iraqi oil to Masefiled AG, a Swiss global energy trading company.
"Doing business in Iraq during those times included kickbacks, which varied from 50 cents per barrel to $1 per barrel of exported oil," Mejie claimed.
The Opposition has the foreign minister in its crosshair.
"How can he [Natwar] continue as India's [ Images ] foreign minister even for a day if the UN report mentions him as a non-contractual beneficiary for manipulated payment in the UN Oil for Food Programme," Bharatiya Janata Party [ Images ] spokesman Arun Jaitley [ Images ] asked.
"Every word he speaks will be suspect and his statements on foreign affairs will be suspect. A person who can be compromised by X can be compromised by Y," Jaitley added.
When asked to comment on the Volcker report, Communist Party of India General Secretary A B Bardhan likened it to "Big criminals trying to fix small criminals."