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Natwar Singh, son indicted in oil-for-food scam

Source: PTI
Last updated on: August 03, 2006 21:46 IST
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The Justice Pathak Committee on Thursday indicted former external affairs minister K Natwar Singh and his legislator son Jagat Singh for procurement of contracts in the United Nations oil-for-food programme in Iraq during Saddam Hussain's regime.

However, no money has been traced to them.

The copy of the 110-page report, including 22 pages of annexures, was handed over to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh by Justice R S Pathak, who headed the one-man inquiry authority.

The authority is believed to have exonerated the Congress of all charges of being a non-contractual beneficiary in the scam in 2001.

Andaleeb Sehgal, a friend of Jagat Singh, and Aditya Khanna, a relative of Natwar Singh, are understood to have received financial payoffs in the deal by getting oil coupons based on the letters of recommendation given by Natwar Singh.

The authority has found that Natwar and his son had misused their position in helping Sehgal and Khanna bag three oil contracts from the UN sanctioned Saddam regime.

Sehgal and Khanna, in turn, passed the contracts on to Swiss oil company Masefield AG which drew the oil and paid them a commission, the report says, adding that on a cut of five cents a barrel, Sehgal and Khanna received a total commission of $1,46,000, which they divided between themselves in a ratio of 4:1.

Former Indian Ambassador to Croatia and Congress leader Aniel Matherani, who was part of a four-member delegation led by Natwar to Baghdad in January, 2001, was also exonerated of any wrong doing. Meanwhile, Natwar Singh declined to comment on reports that he had been indicted by the Justice Pathak Committee.

"I will not comment on it till I have read the report," he told PTI.

When the oil-for-food scam came to light in November last year, Natwar Singh, had to first quit as external affairs minister and then from the Union Cabinet within a month on December 6.

In between after a political uproar the government appointed the Inquiry Authority headed by Justice R S Pathak, former Chief Justice of India, to probe the whole affair and at the same time it asked the Enforcement Directorate to investigate the financial dealings of the Indian entities.

Natwar Singh, who was summoned by the Authority, as were Sehgal and others, had always maintained that he had not done anything wrong in the whole affair and the inquiry would prove his innocence. He had also accused the Enforcement Directorate of indulging in a witch-hunt and harassing his son and others. He had hinted at some higher-ups in the Congress party of going after him and had complained to the prime minister.

The UN-appointed Volcker Committee, which probed irregularities in Iraq's oil-for-food programme during the regime of Saddam Hussein, isuued its report in October last year.

In his report, Paul Volcker, former chairman of the US Federal Reserve who headed the committee, named Natwar Singh and the Congress party as 'non-contractual beneficiaries' of the programme, triggering the political controversy that forced him to resign as external affairs minister on November 8, 2005.

He, however, continued as minister without portfolio till he finally quit the government almost a month later. The government also appointed former diplomat Virender Dayal as a special envoy to liase with the UN to collect documents related to the oil-for-food scam.

About 135 Indian entities figured in the 630-page Volcker Committee report, and the Income Tax department carried out enquiries into transactions of some of the Indian individuals and firms listed in the document.

The Volcker Committee, which extensively examined the oil-for-food programme that was meant to enable Iraq to use oil revenues to provide humanitarian supplies to its people, found irregularities in both Iraqi earnings from oil exports and the use of these revenues for purchasing relief materials.

Between December 1996 and March 2003, Iraq sold oil worth $64.23 billion to 248 companies under the programme. During this period, it purchased $34.5 billion of humanitarian supplies from 3,614 companies from across the world.

The Volcker Report alleged Saddam Hussein's regime levied an 'illicit' surcharge on oil contracts between September 2000 and September 2002. It estimated the regime mobilised $228.8 million from such surcharges paid by 139 companies.

The panel also alleged that 2,253 companies that sold humanitarian supplies paid 'kickbacks' worth $1.55 billion to the regime. The Volcker panel estimated the total 'illicit' income accruing to the Iraqi regime at $1.779 billion.

Natwar Singh and the Congress were named in the Volcker Committee's report in a section that provided details of oil allocations made by the then Iraqi government to various entities and individuals. All these entities, classified 'non-contractual beneficiaries,' were recipients of oil allocations, according to the report.

The reports said 'Iraq dispensed oil allocations to and on behalf of a wide array of individuals and groups whom it considered influential in their respective countries and who espoused pro-Iraq views or organised anti-sanctions activities.'

Virender Dayal collected documents from the UN, Iraq and Jordan, running into more than 1,100 pages and a CD containing material of 82,000 pages. Among these were documents from Iraq's State Oil Marketing company and banks in Jordan.

The Indian entities allegedly routed kickbacks through Jordanian banks. The papers obtained from Iraq related to oil contracts issued during the Saddam Hussein regime. The firm Masefield, named in the Volcker report for having lifted oil earmarked for Indian entities, was linked to Hamadaan Exports of Andaleeb Sehgal, who was accused of passing on kickbacks to Natwar Singh and the Congress.

Both had denied these charges and the Pathak panel too said financial transactions had not been traced to them.

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