Manmohan rejects demand for Natwars resignation

New Delhi, Oct 30 | Updated: Oct 31 2005, 05:30am hrs
Enmeshed unexpectedly in the developing oil-for-food scandal after his name surfaced in the Volcker report, external affairs minister K Natwar Singh got some respite on Sunday when the Prime Minister rejected the Opposition demand for his resignation.

That the backing, however, was still not tantamount to the end of his troubles was indicated when the Prime Minister said that the facts mentioned in Table-3 of the report of the independent inquiry committee are insufficient to arrive at any adverse conclusion against the external affairs minister. To add to Mr Natwar Singhs woes, Left parties today called for an investigation into the matter. The names of a number of Indian companies and the Congress party and foreign minister are mentioned (in the Volcker report). The government of India should investigate the matter, the CPI-M said in a statement.

Mr Natwar Singh has categorically denied any involvement in the alleged illicit payments on oil transactions under the oil-for-food programme and has refuted the report which says he was a non-contractual beneficiary. I am deeply shocked and outraged by these allegations, which are baseless and untrue, Mr Singh said in a statement yesterday.

The BJP, expectedly, was harsh in its criticism, demanding even the resignation of the Prime Minister.It has shaken the very credibility of the minister and the Congress and Mr Singh should not continue for even one more minute in office, party spokesperson Arun Jaitley said. While demanding a CBI or high-level inquiry into the matter, he said the disclosure by the UN Committee headed by Mr Volcker that the Congress and Mr Singh were among the non-contractual beneficiaries from the Swiss company Masefield AG was a very serious matter.

The oil-for-food programme, which began in 1996 and ended in 2003, was designed to ease the impact on ordinary Iraqis of UN sanctions, imposed when Baghdads troops invaded Kuwait in 1990. Under the scheme, Iraq was allowed to sell oil in order to buy food, medicine and many other goods. According to the committees findings, Mr Singh is shown as a beneficiary in the supply of 1.9 million barrels of oil by Masefield AG, the Swiss global energy trading company.