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‘Misuse’ verdict on Natwar

New Delhi, Aug. 3: The Justice R.S. Pathak committee is believed to have found former external affairs minister Natwar Singh and his son Jagat Singh guilty of misusing their positions in the Congress in getting two acquaintances contracts under a UN programme in Iraq.

Neither has, however, been found to have received payoffs by Justice Pathak who submitted the report to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today.

Pathak refused comment, as did the Prime Minister’s Office.

Natwar said: “I have not seen the report. But whatever has been leaked to the media proves I and my son are fully vindicated.

“The report of Justice Pathak says that my son and I have derived no financial benefit. That is the crux of the matter.”

Since the probe report has not been made public, none of its purported contents can be certified as fully authentic.

Unconfirmed reports on the findings suggested that Andaleeb Sehgal, a friend of Jagat who is a Congress MLA, and Aditya Khanna, a relative of Natwar, received kickbacks in the deal by getting oil coupons from the former Saddam Hussain regime against letters of recommendation given by Natwar.

The contracts were issued when the Congress was not in power but the party’s relations with Saddam have traditionally been strong. Natwar headed the party’s foreign affairs cell in 2001, the year the deal pertains to.

Apparently, the party has been exonerated of the charge of being a non-contractual beneficiary in the UN oil-for-food scandal.

Opposition BJP spokesman Ravi Shankar Prasad asked: “On what basis a clean chit was given that Congress had no role to play'” The party intends to raise this in Parliament.

Congress spokesman Abhishek Singhvi said: “Let us wait to study the report and then decide on the individual course of action.”

Natwar and the Congress were named as non-contractual beneficiaries by Paul Volcker who was appointed by the UN to probe the programme, under which a sanctions-restricted Iraq could sell oil to buy food.

“Iraq dispensed oil allocations to and on behalf of a wide array of individuals and groups whom it considered influential in their respective countries and who espoused pro-Iraq views or organised anti-sanctions activities,” the Volcker report had said.

The charges against Natwar and Jagat are that they used their positions in the Congress to help Sehgal and Khanna bag three contracts for selling oil from the Saddam administration.

Sehgal and Khanna allegedly passed these on to a Swiss company, Masefield AG, which paid them a commission. The duo stands accused of receiving a kickback of $146,000, which they shared in the ratio of 4:1.

After refusing to quit in the wake of the oil-for-food scandal, Natwar resigned with a great deal of reluctance from the cabinet in December.

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