The Justice RS Pathak Inquiry Authority, probing into allegations of payoffs in the UN oil-for-food programme in Iraq, has indicted former external affairs minister K. Natwar Singh and his MLA son Jagat Singh for misusing their position. But the probe has found no evidence that the two received money.
Pathak’s report has also exonerated the Congress of the charge that it received money in the procurement of contracts from Iraq during Saddam Hussein’s regime.
Pathak, a former chief justice of India, submitted the 110-page report to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Thursday. “I was entrusted with this responsibility and I treated it as a matter of national service,” Pathak later said.
The probe found that in 2001 Natwar and Jagat misused their position to secure contracts from the Iraqi government for businessmen Andaleeb Sehgal and Aditya Khanna. While Sehgal (owner of Hamdaan Exports) is a friend of Jagat, Khanna is a distant relative.
According to the report, in 2001 Natwar travelled to Iraq, accompanied by his son.
He wrote three letters (on Congress letterheads) to a senior Iraqi minister, introducing Sehgal. The letters helped Sehgal and Khanna bag three contracts from the Iraqi government.
The two passed these contracts to Swiss oil company Masefield AG which drew the oil and paid them a commission. On a cut of five cents a barrel, Sehgal and Khanna received a total $146,000 (Rs 65 lakh). Sehgal took four parts of it and Khanna one, according to the report.
Earlier, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) too had tracked down evidence that Sehgal and Khanna had received payoffs in the deal after getting oil coupons based on Natwar's letters of recommendation.
Former Indian ambassador to Croatia and Congress leader Aniel Matherani, who had also accompanied Natwar to Baghdad, has been exonerated of any wrongdoing by the report.
Reacting to the report, Natwar, who lost his ministership in December in the wake of the allegations, said: "I and my son are fully vindicated by the report, which says that we received no financial benefits. That is the crux of the matter."
On the charge that he misused his position, Natwar said, "I was neither a minister nor MP (when he wrote the letters). My son was not an MLA. How does the question of any misuse of position arise?"
The issue had created a political storm in November last year when former UN diplomat Paul Volcker tabled his inquiry report on the oil-for-food programme run by the UN in Iraq from 1996 to 2001. The report named 600 non-contractual beneficiaries, including the Congress, Natwar and Jagat.
Finance Minister P. Chidambaram said the ED would take "appropriate action" on the matter.