M A I N   N E W S

Volcker: Natwar was notified
Congress denies receiving notice
T.R. Ramachandran
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, November 4
A new dimension was added to the controversy over the UN inquiry report on the Iraq oil-for-food programme when its author Paul Volcker indicated that External Affairs Minister K. Natwar Singh was asked for his comments on the document and laughed off the Congress’ threat to issue legal notice for naming the party as a beneficiary.

Reacting to Mr Volcker’s clarification that all those named in his report on the oil-for-food scam had been notified beforehand, the Congress today denied receiving any advance notice.

“Mr Volcker has to tell us the date when the alleged notice was sent to the Congress and to whom it was sent,’’ Congress spokesman Abhishek Manu Singhvi said, according to a UNI report

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has been immersed since yesterday in a flurry of consultations with senior Cabinet colleagues as well as UPA Chairperson and Congress President Sonia Gandhi on the Volcker Committee report which has named the Congress and Mr Natwar Singh as beneficiaries in Iraq’s oil-for-food programme under the aegis of the United Nations.

Sources said an informal committee comprising Union Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil and Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram had been formed to look into the charges levelled by the Volcker report. The Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), had already submitted a report to the Prime Minister.

Mr Volcker alluded in New York yesterday to his committee seeking responses from all those mentioned as beneficiaries. He insisted that the report was based on inputs available with the authorities in Baghdad. Some of those mentioned in the report responded while others chose to ignore it. While noting that the United Nations enjoys certain immunity and privileges, anyone was free to seek a legal recourse. He also went on to say that he did not know till yesterday that Mr Natwar Singh was India’s External Affairs Minister.

This goes contrary to what Mr Natwar Singh’s son Jagat Singh had told a TV news channel that they had never been contacted for their views by the Volcker Committee. Mr Jagat Singh dismissed the report as being farthest from the truth about Mr Natwar Singh having been a non-contractual beneficiary.

During the Prime Minister’s discussions with Mrs Gandhi, the strategy to be adopted by the government on the report is believed to have been taken up.

At this juncture, Mr Natwar Singh is fighting with his back to the wall in retaining his berth. Even though he has been emphatic that he is innocent, it is widely argued that it will be better if he first absolves himself of any wrong doing. He has made it clear that he will take the first opportunity in making a suo motu statement in Parliament when the winter session gets under way on November 23.

Mr Natwar Singh’s name figures in the report as one who was permitted to lift four million barrels of Iraqi oil under the UN programme. He is fast losing sympathy in the ranks of the Congress.

Interestingly, the Left parties came to the defence of Mr Natwar Singh with the BJP stepping up its onslaught against the UPA government demanding the immediate ouster of Mr Natwar from the Union Cabinet.

The CPM general secretary, Mr Prakash Karat, met Mr Natwar Singh yesterday and discussed with him the report. Mr Karat assured Mr Natwar Singh of Left support. In taking that promise forward, CPI general secretary A.B. Bardhan and national secretary D. Raja met Mr Natwar Singh today.

Mr Raja observed “there is no reason to disbelieve Mr Natwar Singh. The government can probe the matter so that people come to know the whole truth. During our meeting we found that Mr Natwar Singh has nothing to hide. This is why he has welcomed any probe into the matter.”

He quoted Mr Natwar Singh as saying that so far nobody from the Volcker Committee had talked to him and that even Russia had rejected the report. Mr Natwar Singh also told the Left leaders that he had always had a clean public life.

In the Prime Minister’s continuing hectic consultations, the issue of the Left parties criticism of the growing Indo-US military exercises also came up for discussion at the meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security late last night and again during the day. A meeting of the Cabinet fixed for today was cancelled.

The meeting of the CCS assumed importance as the Left has decided to hold dharnas in protest against increasing military linkages between India and the US. It has also threatened to hold a dharna outside the Air Force station in Kalaikunda, West Bengal, where the exercises are scheduled from November 7.

After the meeting, Union Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee said the government had decided to go ahead with the exercises. The Centre had urged Left Front government in West Bengal to beef up security. Mr Mukherjee said it was the right of political parties to protest through dharnas and hoped that it would remain peaceful.

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