India official denies oil-food charges

India's foreign minister has rejected the main opposition party's demand that he resign and denied that he was a beneficiary of the UN oil-for-food programme for Saddam Hussein's Iraq, a report said.

    Foreign Minister Natwar Singh rejected calls to quit

    "Certainly not," External Affairs Minister K Natwar Singh replied when asked on the private New Delhi Television channel whether he intended to quit after a UN report named him and the ruling Congress party as being among beneficiaries of the programme.

    The UN report accused more than 2200 companies and prominent politicians of colluding with Saddam Hussein's government to swindle the humanitarian oil-for-food programme of $1.8 billion in kickbacks and illicit surcharges.

    Singh repeatedly has denied involvement in the scheme, calling "baseless and untrue" the allegations of the Independent Inquiry Committee, led by former US Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker.

    Opposition demand

    India's opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has pressed for Singh's resignation. The party's leaders plan to meet President APJ Abdul Kalam on Monday to demand that Singh be asked to quit.

    Paul Volcker led an investigation
    of the oil-for-food programme

    "I will fight and fight back," Singh said on Saturday. "The BJP is not going to decide who the foreign minister of India is going to be."

    Singh said he had the support of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Congress party's president, Sonia Gandhi.

    The foreign minister also said Volcker had not contacted him or the Congress party before reporting the findings.

    "Let him produce the evidence," the foreign minister said, adding that the report was based on the records of the current Iraqi government, which has "no credibility in the world".

    The Congress party issued a statement on Thursday calling the Volcker findings "unverified" and "demanding an apology for wrongly and maliciously making a reference to" the party.

    The oil-for-food programme allowed Iraq to sell oil, as long as most of the money was used to buy humanitarian goods to help ordinary Iraqis cope with UN sanctions. Saddam Hussein's government chose all the oil buyers and goods suppliers.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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