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Oil-for-Food scam: No progress in Pathak probe

The Pathak inquiry probe is limping as the Enforcement Directorate is dragging its feet.

india Updated: Apr 25, 2006 11:45 IST
Murali Krishnan (IANS)
Murali Krishnan (IANS)

The Pathak inquiry probe into Indian links to Iraq's Oil-for-Food scandal is limping as the Enforcement Directorate is dragging its feet in giving it original documents vital to the investigation.

The Justice RS Pathak Inquiry Authority is investigating suspect deals of Indians named in the UN appointed Paul Volcker report that said individuals and companies around the world gave kickbacks to the Saddam Hussein regime against oil vouchers that they traded with international companies.

Knowledgeable sources close to Justice Pathak said that despite several reminders and with five crucial months gone by, only a clutch of documents relating to the Enforcement Directorate investigation had been handed to him.

"It is upsetting that papers and documents relating to the investigation have not been given. The commission's recommendations will be made public only after it receives all the original documents," said one source close to the former judge who spoke only on condition he was not identified.

Enforcement Directorate director Sudhir Nath has apparently met Justice Pathak only once since the commission was constituted in November last year.

Officials in the Enforcement Directorate, when queried, refused to comment.

Appointed for a term of six months, Pathak, a former Supreme Court Chief Justice, is expected to give his opinion on the "authenticity and reliability" of the "sources, materials and documents" examined by Paul Volcker and on whether the purported transactions in oil were genuine or not.

The probe panel, which works out of the Vigyan Bhavan annexe, took a while getting off the ground because of the time involved in inducting staff and lawyers.

Not having all the original documents relating to the Enforcement Directorate investigation against some of the alleged beneficiaries as well as documents procured by special envoy Virendra Dayal from the UN on the Volcker report delayed the commission's public hearings.

Pathak's office sent notices on March 14 to Natwar Singh and 17 others for alleged involvement in the Iraqi scandal.

The notices sought information on whether any of them had details pertaining to contracts bearing number M/9/54 (Natwar Singh) and number M/10/57 (Congress party), both named as beneficiaries in the Volcker report.

Among those who were issued notices include Aneil Matherani, who had accompanied Natwar Singh to Iraq in 2001, Andaleeb Sehgal, a friend of Natwar Singh's son Jagat Singh, who allegedly received oil coupons, Jamil Zaidi, a former Rajasthan youth Congress president, Vipin Khanna, a businessman, P Shiv Shankar, a former central minister, and AR Antulay, currently minority affairs minister.

According to sources, the replies they gave in affidavits to the judicial inquiry were evasive and not backed by any documentation.

For instance, Matherani, who alleged in a magazine interview that Jagat Singh and his cousin Sehgal were in a Congress party delegation to Iraq in 2001 and could have been beneficiaries of the oil coupons given out by the then Iraqi regime, said in his reply that he had "no documentation" to back what he said.

The replies of other Congress functionaries have also been found ambiguous, with some respondents replying that they had already given all the relevant material to the Enforcement Directorate.

The Pathak probe had initially hoped that all the relevant documentation would be handed to it instead of to the Enforcement Directorate.

But Justice Pathak, the sources said, was not deterred by the "non-cooperation" of the Enforcement Directorate.

"The commission's tenure might be coming to an end next month. But even if its term is extended, the findings of Justice Pathak will not be influenced by other probes," said the source.

First Published: Apr 25, 2006 11:45 IST