The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Cong changes tune on notice

New Delhi, Nov. 5: Named along with Natwar Singh as a non-contractual beneficiary of the oil-for-food programme in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, the Congress appears to have belatedly decided to launch a joint defence.

Two days after announcing plans to send a legal notice to the UN-appointed Volcker committee for naming the party, the Congress today suggested it had changed its mind.

“We may sue Volcker, we may sue an individual or we may not sue,” spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi said, adds PTI.

The proposed notice was to have been confined to clearing the party’s name, leaving out Natwar. The back-tracking is understood to be part of a changed approach, which envisages a common strategy to fight the allegations against the party and the external affairs minister. It follows party president Sonia Gandhi’s full support to him.

Natwar, who suspects some partymen of conspiring to unseat him, is understood to have prevailed upon Sonia to drop the plan to send a legal notice. In a television interview, he disapproved of the proposal, saying: “It shouldn’t have been said.”

The minister’s advice to the party followed suggestions from India’s permanent representative to the UN, Nirupam Sen, who is involved in evolving a strategy to deal with the issue.

Singhvi today explained that by legal notice the party only meant that the Volcker committee or the UN would be asked to give details of the evidence on the basis of which it had named the Congress and Natwar as beneficiaries in the scandal.

If the evidence was provided, the party would examine it. If it was not, the Congress would expect an apology to both the party and the minister. A contempt notice would be considered only if an apology was not forthcoming, he said.

Singhvi, a Supreme Court advocate, did not agree that the UN committee enjoyed complete immunity from contempt proceedings.

Party general secretary Ambika Soni, who Natwar suspects to be part of the group working against him, today asserted that the Congress was completely united behind him. She termed as “rumour and speculation” the charge that the party was not backing Natwar.

“There is no truth in such a perception,” she said. The day the scandal broke, Soni had denied only the allegations against the party and said Natwar could defend himself.

Soni also debunked the claim of an Iraq-based NRI businessman, Hari Darshan Mejie, that Sonia had written to Saddam before his regime allegedly allotted oil sale in the Congress’s name.

“On behalf of the Congress president, I categorically deny Mejie’s contention. She (Sonia) won’t even request, let alone write to Saddam Hussein,” Soni said.

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