The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Congress defends itself, not Natwar
- Ambika confines Iraq denial to party, minister issues disclaimer from abroad

New Delhi, Oct. 29: The Congress has denied its involvement in the Iraq oil-for-food scandal but the party has left foreign minister Natwar Singh’s defence to himself.

“I categorically state that the reports are false and baseless. We consider it an attempt to sully the fair name of the Indian National Congress,” chairperson of the AICC media department Ambika Soni asserted today.

She contended that the party was not in power at the Centre during the period between 1996 and 2003 when the oil-for-food programme was in force in UN sanctions-hit Iraq.

She said the Congress was “determined to take whatever steps necessary to safeguard the name, image and reputation of the party”.

However, Soni, who is also a party general secretary enjoying proximity to Sonia Gandhi, as well as AICC spokesman Anand Sharma chose not to defend the external affairs minister.

Soni said she was only authorised to speak on behalf of the party and as far as “individuals” were concerned, they were competent to defend themselves. Singh, away in Frankfurt, then issued a separate disclaimer.

According to a UN investigation report, as a non-contractual beneficiary, the Congress was allotted four purchase contracts for 10 lakh barrels each. But only one allotment '10 lakh barrels ' was lifted by a third entity, Masefield AG of Switzerland.

The Swiss company also lifted 19. 36 lakh barrels of oil out of the 40 lakh barrels allotted by Saddam Hussein’s regime in Singh’s name, the report added.

The Congress spokesman, however, said the party had nothing to do with the Swiss company.

“The Congress party is in no business and has no association with any company,” Sharma said, asked about the Swiss firm.

The BJP and its ally Janata Dal (United) demanded the resignation of Singh and Sonia over the disclosures.

“How can he (Singh) continue as India’s foreign minister even for a day if the report mentions him as a non-contractual beneficiary. Every word he speaks will be suspect and his statement on foreign affairs will be suspect. A person who can be compromised by X can be compromised by Y,” BJP spokesman Arun Jaitley said.

Saying the charges were more serious than the one contained against the Congress in the Mitrokhin papers that alleged payments by the KGB, Jaitley said the party’s contention that it was not in power in 2001 would not wash. The payments were made to individuals and organisations by the Iraqi government depending on the degree of their opposition to the UN sanctions against Iraq, he said.

Besides demanding Singh’s exit, the BJP leader also asked the Manmohan Singh government to find out the truth.

Going a step further, Dal (U) spokesman Shambhu Srivastava demanded the resignation of Sonia as Congress president and UPA chairperson.

“The government should also immediately order registration of a regular case by the CBI against Sonia Gandhi and Natwar Singh,” he said.

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