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Pandemonium in Parliament
Revelations on Natwar’s role by envoy
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, December 2
Even as India's Ambassador to Croatia Aneil Mathrani's explosive observations about Union Minister without Portoflio K Natwar Singh's role in the United Nations Oil for Food scam in Iraq provided necessary grist to the Opposition to put the UPA government on the mat in Parliament, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha "we are determined that truth must prevail in this matter and no one who is guilty will go unpunished."

After persistent adjournments of the two Houses of Parliament, Dr Singh acknowledged that the statements made by Mr Mathrani certainly relate to the transactions under investigation. The Enforcement Directorate has assured the government that their investigations are proceeding on the right track and they will be able to establish the facts expeditiously.

"We should not prejudge the final outcome of the investigation or pre-empt the findings that may be given by the Justice R S Pathak Inquiry Authority. For us in the government truth is of utmost importance. Our government believes in maintaining high standards of probity and transparency in public life and I can assure the House that no one who is guilty will go unpunished," the Prime Minister observed.

Noting that he had been informed about Mr Mathrani making certain statements regarding the alleged involvement of certain individuals in the UN's Oil-for-Food scandal in Iraq, Dr Singh reiterated that this matter is currently under investigation by the Justice Pathak Inquiry Authority as part of its "mandate to inquire into certain transactions mentioned in the Paul Volcker Committee report. The same matter is also being investigated by the Enforcement Directorate."

He stressed that since first mention was made of the involvement of certain Indian entities and individuals in the Volcker Committee report as non-contractual beneficiaries in Iraq's Oil-for-Food programme, "the government has been consistent, firm and clear in its stand on the matter. We had said that the references as they are found in the Volcker Committee's report are unverified references. We had said that we are determined to go to the root of the matter and establish the truth or otherwise of these references. We stand by that position even now."

To unearth the facts, the Prime Minister pointed out that his government promptly appointed Mr Justice Pathak to inquire into the two specific contracts which are of relevance and gave him full powers in the manner he desired to complete his inquiry speedily and effectively. "We appointed Mr Virendra Dayal as the special envoy to gather relevant materials and as the Finance Minister informed the House, he has been doing his work most expeditiously and in a space of 10 days, obtained important documents and materials.

"As for the statements made today, they certainly relate to the transactions under investigation. Statements have been made about Mr Natwar Singh and other individuals. These are a matter of concern."

Dr Singh said the Enforcement Directorate will take cognisance of the recent statements attributed to the Indian Ambassador to Croatia and pursue its investigations.

Earlier, an unrelenting Opposition forced the adjournment of both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha demanding that Congress president Sonia Gandhi quit as the Chairperson of the National Advisory Council after the fresh revelations by Mr Mathrani.

Opposition members targeted Mrs Gandhi and also demanded that it has become untenable for Mr Natwar Singh to remain in the UPA government as a Minister without Portfolio on moral grounds in the wake of Mr Mathrani's statement.

Even after the Prime Minister's assurance to the Opposition they continued to shout "Sonia Gandhi bhrasht hai, Sonia Gandhi steefa dein (Sonia Gandhi is corrupt, she must resign).

After the Prime Minister made his statement in the Rajya Sabha, the Opposition sought clarifications but the ruling coalition insisted that Private Members business be taken up. The ensuing pandemonium compelled Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairman Bhairon Singh Shekhawat to adjourn the House for the day.

In the Lok Sabha, the Leader of the Opposition L K Advani said that the Prime Minister had stated that references to Mr Natwar Singh as made in the Volcker Committee report were unverified but the disclosures made today by Mr Mathrani confirmed the charge.

Referring to Dr Singh's remark that Mr Natwar Singh had pleaded ignorance about the scam, Mr Advani said a person who had accompanied the former External Affairs Minister to Iraq had confirmed that it was "hogwash." He maintained that Mrs Gandhi should resign her post as the Chairperson of the National Advisory Council till the submission of the report by the Justice Pathak panel.

This led to slogan shouting between the Opposition and the treasury benches and with the Opposition remaining adamant after yet another adjournment that their demands should be met, the Lok Sabha Deputy Speaker had no option but to adjourn the House for the day.


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