M A I N   N E W S

Matherani recalled; Cong core group meets
Rajeev Sharma
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, December 2
Despite the new controversy on the Volcker episode, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will go ahead with his bilateral visit to Russia (December 4 to 7), PMO sources told The Tribune this evening.

Meanwhile, Indian Ambassador to Croatia, Mr Aniel Matherani, who triggered off a political storm by giving an interview to an Indian weekly, was transferred back to New Delhi with immediate effect two days ago and this was the second time when such transfer orders were issued to Mr Matherani.

The Congress Core Group was meeting at the Prime Minister’s residence at 7, Race Course Road till late evening at the time of filing of this report. Apart from the Prime Minister, Congress President Sonia Gandhi, Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Mr Ahmed Patel were present at the meeting which began around 1830 hours.

It is also understood that till this evening the Prime Minister had not asked Minister without portfolio, Mr K Natwar Singh, to resign in the wake of allegations made against him by the Indian Ambassador in Croatia, Mr Aneil Matherani. As for Mr Natwar Singh himself, there was no move from him to put in his papers, sources close to the minister said .

The Prime Minister made his intentions of going ahead with his Russia visit clear when he chose to make a statement in the Lok Sabha today, though the Leader of the Opposition, Mr L.K. Advani, asked him to do so only on Monday, December 5.

Mr Natwar Singh made a brief statement in the evening wherein he described Mr Matherani’s allegations as ‘false’ and ‘outrageous’ and hinted at taking legal action against the envoy. He questioned Mr Matherani’s motive behind the interview and stressed that he was ready to face any inquiry, which is time-bound, and said his “conscience is clear”.

Mr Natwar Singh, talking to this correspondent, refused to go beyond his statement which he read out to reporters at his residence. His statement said: “I have read in the latest issue of ‘India Today’, Mr Aniel Matherani’s outrageous allegations against the Congress party and myself. These are totally false and malicious. I shall consult my lawyer for further action... The obvious question to ask is why did Mr Matherani give this interview at this time. If he was so concerned about the matter, why did he not go public earlier. He (Mr Matherani) was in Delhi when the Volcker report controversy came up.”

Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran, who reluctantly took a question on Mr Matherani at his briefing today on the Prime Minister’s Russia visit, confirmed that Mr Matherani had been asked to come back to New Delhi and an ‘agrement’ for appointing a replacement has already been sought from the Croatian government.

However, MEA sources said as long as an ambassador remains in the receiving country even after being recalled by the sending country, he still remained an ambassador. There is no indication yet when Mr Matherani intends to leave Croatia for New Delhi.

Sources also said it would be up to the Congress party to see whether any disciplinary action should be taken against Mr Matherani, a political appointee, for breach of code of conduct. Months ago, he had been recalled and directed to return to the headquarters when his name was linked to a scandal in Croatia. Mr Matherani had even handed over charge but then he again managed to survive in the same post by using his political clout.

The government has decided to appoint Rajiv Mishra, India’s Deputy Permanent Representative to WTO, as the next Ambassador to Croatia. Mr Mishra, a 1980-batch Indian Foreign Service (IFS) official, is currently based in Geneva.


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