India Finds Ex-Official Guilty in Oil Scandal

India Finds Ex-Official Guilty in Oil Scandal

Sunday, August 6th 2006

A nine-month government investigation found a former foreign minister, Natwar Singh, guilty of misconduct related to the United Nations oil-for-food program in Iraq, the Indian news media reported on Friday.

The report on the inquiry, which was submitted on Thursday to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh but has not been made public, also implicated Natwar Singh’s son, Jagat Singh, the news reports said.

Natwar Singh has denied any wrongdoing, but resigned from his position in October after being identified in a United Nations report as a recipient of kickbacks in the scandal. The inquiry concluded that Saddam Hussein’s government had manipulated the oil-for-food program to secure about $1.8 billion in bribes and kickbacks.

According to the Indian news reports of leaks from the new investigation, both father and son abused their ties to the governing party, the Indian National Congress, to secure oil contracts.

The Congress Party, which was also identified last year as benefiting from the oil-for-food program, was apparently exonerated by the Indian investigation.

The investigation’s reported conclusions, and the manner in which they emerged, set off a political storm. Opposition politicians accused the government of leaking selected passages of the report to the news media late Thursday, instead of presenting it to Parliament. Both houses of Parliament were suspended Friday amid angry protests.

The 110-page file, compiled by a retired Supreme Court judge, R. S. Pathak, reportedly found that Natwar Singh had written letters to Mr. Hussein seeking special vouchers to purchase cheap oil, although it stated that no money from the sale of Iraqi oil had been traced to him or to his son. Two of Jagat Singh’s friends, however, were found to have made money from the deal.

Natwar Singh said Friday that he had been vindicated by the report in that it found no evidence that he had gained financially.

Congress officials greeted the conclusions with relief, but the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party dismissed the report as an effort to bail out the Congress Party.

It was not clear what action, if any, would be taken against the Singhs.

”Let us wait and study the report and then decide on the course of action relating to individuals,” a Congress spokesman, Abhishek Singhvi, said.

After Natwar Singh’s resignation, the prime minister, who is not a relative of his, took on the responsibility of foreign minister, pending the conclusion of the inquiry.

The United Nations started the oil-for-food program in 1996 to soften the impact of economic sanctions imposed on Iraq after it invaded Kuwait in 1990. The program allowed Iraq to sell oil abroad to raise money for food, medicine and other civilian essentials.


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