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Sehgal, mystery sixth man in team

New Delhi, Aug. 7: The breakthrough in Andaleeb Sehgal’s bid for a slice of the Iraqi oil-for-food contracts came when he managed to latch on to Natwar Singh’s delegation to Baghdad.

The Pathak report traces the manner in which Natwar’s son Jagat and, more intriguingly, Jagat’s cousin Andaleeb became part of the Congress delegation to Baghdad in January 2001.

Andaleeb’s visit and apparent backing of his venture by former foreign minister Natwar appeared to have swung the deal for his company, Hamdaan Exports.

It all began with an invitation from the Iraq government to the Congress. Initially, the delegation was to include just Natwar, A.R. Antulay and Aneil Mathrani. The three were to travel to Iraq and back between January 8 and 12, 2001.

Later, another Congress leader P. Shiv Shankar’s name was added to the list and the departure put off to January 18. Pathak couldn’t ascertain from Natwar or Mathrani — then secretary of the Congress foreign affairs department — what led to this change.

By January 17, the size of the delegation had expanded to six. The delegation was travelling to Baghdad through Amman, Jordan.

Krishan Kumar, counsellor at the Indian embassy in Amman, wrote to the Indian embassy in Baghdad about the update. Kumar — who was in touch with Mathrani — also wrote to the Iraqi embassy in Amman. And he booked six single rooms at Jordan Intercontinental for the night of January 18.

In these letters from Kumar, the fifth member of the delegation was named Jagat. The Pathak report dwells for some time on how Jagat himself got the late go-ahead to be part of the delegation.

But more intriguing is the sixth member: at this point he wasn’t named. The Indian counsellor in Amman told his Iraqi counterpart that the name of the sixth person was awaited from Delhi. He couldn’t give the name to Iraqi Airways as well, but asked them to book six seats.

Before the Pathak committee, Andaleeb maintained that he just happened to be in the same Amman hotel when the official Congress delegation reached there.

But Pathak in his report says he is not inclined to believe that. He gives three reasons.

One, the Indian counsellor’s deposition that he had asked his Iraqi counterparts to arrange accommodation for six;

Two, P. Shiv Shankar’s deposition that he saw both Jagat and Andaleeb at Delhi airport and both took the same flight;

Three, Andaleeb spent the same number of days as the delegation in Amman and Baghdad.

“Therefore the Inquiry Authority finds that Shri Jagat Singh and Shri Sehgal accompanied the delegation from New Delhi,” it says.

H.C.S. Dhody, Indian ambassador to Jordan, also confirmed that Jagat and Andaleeb were there in Amman. They were also present at the dinner he hosted at his residence. They were invited because they were with the delegation.

The delegation boarded an Amman-Baghdad flight. Jagat was on it, Andaleeb travelled by car. All six reached Baghdad on January 19.

The Pathak committee had trouble learning about the meetings in Baghdad. But one Natwar letter — reproduced in the report — makes clear that Andaleeb was there when the Congress leader met Iraqi oil minister Amer Mohammed Rasheed.

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