Oil-for-Food Scam |
India to name panel to probe Natwar link
Afp, New Delhi
India's prime minister met Foreign Minister Natwar Singh yesterday to discuss allegations that the minister and the ruling Congress Party benefited from deals linked to the UN oil-for-food programme for Iraq.
"I met the prime minister (Manmohan Singh) a short while ago. We discussed the Volcker report. We also discussed other pressing foreign policy matters," Natwar Singh told reporters after the meeting.
A UN report by former US Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker said Singh and the Congress party were among beneficiaries worldwide allowed to buy Iraqi oil at below market rates in return for kickbacks to the regime of Saddam Hussein.
Newspapers said the prime minister was likely to appoint a retired judge to examine details of the report. Several television channels said there would be pressure on the foreign minister to resign if such a probe was ordered.
A government source said the prime minister had decided to order a probe following talks with Finance Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram and Science and Technology Minister Kapil Sibal, both noted lawyers.
The Times of India newspaper said that after going through the Volcker report, Chidambaram and Sibal advised the prime minister that Natwar Singh could not be cleared immediately.
But the two ministers felt confident that it would be possible to get the Congress party cleared, the newspaper said.
The prime minister's office refused to confirm that a probe would be announced later Sunday.
Last week the foreign minister rejected opposition demands to resign, saying he enjoyed the full confidence of his Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi and of Manmohan Singh.
The Volcker report named him as a non-contractual beneficiary of four million barrels of Iraqi oil allotted to a firm named Masefield AG.
The report said it found that Saddam's regime manipulated the programme to extract about 1.8 billion dollars in surcharges and bribes, while an inept UN headquarters failed to exert administrative control.
The ruling Congress party, India's oldest political entity, is also listed as a beneficiary of a separate allotment of four million barrels of oil as part of the transactions.
Smarting under opposition demands for Singh's scalp, Congress has said it was mailing a "comprehensive legal notice" to the United Nations to demand full disclosure of the Volcker report.