Mon, Nov 07, 2005 - Page 5 News List

India to investigate oil-for-food charge

AP , NEW DELHI

The Indian government will investigate allegations that its foreign minister benefited illegally from the UN oil-for-food program in Iraq, a newspaper reported yesterday, as the minister rejected demands for his resignation.

The government will announce today the appointment of a retired Supreme Court judge to investigate the allegations against Foreign Minister K. Natwar Singh, the Times of India reported.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's office declined to comment on the report.

The newspaper said the investigation would seek to establish the veracity of the claims, made in a UN report which accused more than 2,200 companies and prominent politicians worldwide of colluding with former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein's regime to bilk the humanitarian oil-for-food program of US$1.8 billion in kickbacks and illicit surcharges.

Singh and the Congress party were named as a "non-contractual beneficiary" in the report by the Independent Inquiry Committee, led by former US Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker.

Singh has repeatedly denied involvement in the scheme, calling the allegations "baseless and untrue," and rejected the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party's demands that he step down.

"I will fight and fight back," Singh told the NDTV channel on Saturday. "The BJP is not going to decide who the foreign minister of India is going to be."

He has further challenged Volcker's claim that the committee sent notices to all those named in the report so they could clarify their involvement.

"Neither the Congress [party] nor I ever received any communication," he told the Hindu newspaper in an interview published yesterday.

"Mr Volcker said everyone had been contacted, but he also said he only just found out that I was the foreign minister of India," he said. "If he didn't know who I was, to whom did he send a notice?"

The oil-for-food program allowed Iraq to sell limited and then unlimited quantities of oil, as long as most of the money was used to buy humanitarian goods to help ordinary Iraqis cope with UN sanctions.

Saddam's government chose all the oil buyers and goods suppliers.

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