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Volcker boot on BJP foot
Bhandari: Fresh fuel

New Delhi, Dec. 8: Fresh claims in the Iraqi oil-for-food controversy today armed the Congress for a counter-offensive against the BJP.

Romesh Bhandari, a former ambassador to Baghdad, said in an interview to a magazine that a “close relative” of Atal Bihari Vajpayee had business links with Saddam Hussein’s son Uday who owned companies that smuggled oil out of Iraq.

“If there is a thorough probe, you will see exposure of many faces of the previous NDA government,” Bhandari said.

Grabbing the allegations with both hands, the Congress indicated expansion of the Justice Pathak probe into allegations in the Volcker report, of which its former external affairs minister, Natwar Singh, has so far been the target.

It also demanded a debate in Parliament. Both Houses had to be adjourned as charges were traded by the two sides.

Bhandari, who was posted in Baghdad at the time, contended that Saddam wanted closer ties not with political parties but with governments. When oil allotments by way of coupons were made, the Vajpayee government was in power, he said.

The then petroleum minister Ram Naik visited Iraq in July 2002 with a business delegation. “If they did such huge favours to individuals like Natwar, imagine what they must have done for the government in power,” Bhandari said.

Congress leaders Ambika Soni and Anand Sharma waved copies of the magazine and demanded that the scope of the probe into the UN-commissioned Volcker report allegations should be expanded to cover the new revelations.

Opposition MPs reacted angrily, accusing the ruling party of trying to digress from the “real issue”.

NDA members displayed a newspaper report that said the enforcement directorate had traced Rs 528 crore earned from the sale of oil by Natwar and the Congress.

Soni later told reporters: “India and Iraq have a long-standing relationship. If some people took advantage of the relationship, Justice Pathak should definitely look into it.”

Even Anil Mathrani, the man behind the NDA’s renewed campaign against the Centre, seemed to have revised his version to suit the UPA.

In an earlier interview, he had said the Congress knew about Jagat Singh, Natwar’s son, and Andaleeb Sehgal, Jagat’s friend whose company has been named in the Volcker report, being part of an official delegation to Iraq.

Mathrani today said the Congress leadership had no idea about it till the Volcker report became public in October.

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