- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 3, 2005

NEW DELHI (Agence France-Presse) — The Indian government yesterday promised to investigate reports that its foreign minister and the ruling Congress party secretly benefited from shady deals linked to the United Nations’ oil-for-food program for Iraq.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s office described as “unverified” references to Foreign Minister Natwar Singh and the Congress party in the Oct. 27 report by former U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, who probed the scandal.

“The government is deeply concerned about the unverified references made in the Volcker committee report to the Congress party and [Foreign Minister Natwar] Singh. … The Volcker committee report, as it stands today, is insufficient to arrive at any adverse or definitive conclusion,” said Sanjaya Baru, the prime minister’s press adviser.

“Therefore, the government is determined to go to the root of the matter and establish the truth or otherwise of these references. The matter is under the serious consideration of the government and a decision will be announced shortly,” he added.

The Volcker report said it found that Saddam Hussein’s regime manipulated the program to extract about $1.8 billion in kickbacks and bribes, while an inept U.N. headquarters failed to exert administrative control.

The government’s statement came amid rising demands from opposition parties as well as allies of the Congress party to make a clean breast ahead of Parliament’s winter session starting next month.

The main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) called for the Natwar Singh’s resignation after Mr. Volcker named him as a non-contractual beneficiary of 4 million barrels of oil allotted to a firm named Masefield AG.

“It is bad enough that the minister who represents India in world affairs is implicated in a murky international scandal and what compounds the offence is that he continues to remain foreign minister with your full backing,” BJP General-Secretary Arun Jaitley said in a letter to the prime minister yesterday.

The Congress party, India’s oldest political entity, is listed as a beneficiary of a separate allotment of 4 million barrels of oil as part of the transactions.

According to the report, 139 companies paid illegal oil surcharges to Baghdad and 2,253 firms gave Saddam’s regime kickbacks on humanitarian-related goods shipped to Iraq.

Foreign Minister Singh has denied any wrongdoing and said the charges were aimed at discrediting the Congress party, which had friendly ties with Baghdad until 2003 when U.S.-led forces toppled the Iraqi regime.

The Indian Express newspaper yesterday published details of various trips made by the foreign minister’s son, Jagat Singh, to Jordan and Iraq, which it said coincided with large deposits made by an Indian into an Amman, Jordan-based bank.

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