| Volcker: Mixed bag
New York, Nov. 9: Nirupam Sen, India’s permanent representative to the UN, yesterday met Paul Volcker for 45 minutes and received an assurance of cooperation in India’s investigations into wrongdoings by Indian entities and individuals in the $60 billion oil-for-food programme in Iraq.
A committee source told The Telegraph that the assurance by Volcker, the chairman of a UN-appointed committee, which investigated the Iraqi scam, was both good and bad news for former external affairs minister Natwar Singh.
Singh stands accused of corruption in the programme and contributing a portion of $1.8 billion to Saddam Hussein in illicit payments.
The good news for Singh and the Congress Party, another Indian entity accused in the scam, is Volcker’s promise to share his panel’s information with India’s investigating agencies.
The bad news is two-fold: first, Volcker said his co-operation with any Indian entity would be within “legal constraints”.
That implies that India’s own inquiry, to be conducted by former Chief Justice R.S. Pathak, or any search for information by special envoy Virendra Dayal should not violate the Volcker inquiry’s immunity and confidentiality agreements.
In other words, the Volcker panel has been given documents and testimony by individuals and institutions across the world on the explicit promise that they should not be identified and that their data should not be shared with anyone else.
In those cases, the Volcker committee would have to get a waiver from those individuals and institutions before sharing such information with Dayal or the Indian government.
If those parties refuse to give such a waiver, Volcker will have no option but to withhold information from the Pathak inquiry.
It was precisely to protect such immunity and confidentiality that Volcker repeatedly sought the intervention of American courts earlier this year to prevent the panel’s documents from reaching the US Congress and to restrain Robert Parton, a former FBI agent who was on the staff of his committee, from testifying before Congress.
The second bad news for the former external affairs minister is that around 130 Indian entities and individuals have been cited in the Volcker report for alleged involvement in the oil-for-food scandal.
It would be difficult for Indian diplomats at the UN -- who will be the vehicle through which the Volcker documents are eventually transmitted to the Indian inquiry -- to go and tell Volcker’s staff that they need to speed up Natwar Singh’s case as an exception because Singh is remaining in the cabinet without any portfolio.
As a matter of principle, India can only approach the Volcker committee as part of an ethical effort to clear the names of all Indian entities and to see if anyone in India had violated Indian laws.
The committee, for its part, will be willing to share information about Indian entities and individuals as part of this effort, not simply to clear Singh’s name post-haste so that he can be reinstated in South Block.
This process may turn out to be time-consuming and require Singh to wait out the availability of any details that may clear him of charges of corruption as part of an overall effort to clear the names of Indian entities and individuals.
The committee is double checking the exact status of the chance it had given Singh to respond before his name was put in the panel’s report as a non-contractual beneficiary in the oil-for-food programme.
At the same time, Pathak and Dayal will have to move fast because the Volcker committee's mandate ends in about a month. After that the panel becomes history and there will be no one available for Pathak or Dayal to deal with here.