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Political targeting, says Natwar Singh

N. Ram

Chennai: In a telephone conversation with me on Sunday, India's External Affairs Minister, K. Natwar Singh, expressed outrage and anger over the Volcker Committee naming him as a "non-contractual beneficiary" of Iraqi oil sales in 2001 to Masefield AG on the basis of "no evidence" at all — and with no one talking either to him or to the contracting company to ascertain the truth relating to him in advance.

"Let me make this absolutely clear," Mr. Singh told me, "I have had nothing to do with this affair. Nor has my son [Jagat Singh, against whom there has been a whispering campaign]... I saw the Prime Minister and he has given me a clean chit and stood by me," pointing out that there was no evidence offered against him in Table 3 of the report. India's Foreign Minister also called attention to the statement by the Communist Party of India (Marxist), which spoke of the political bias against those who were opposed to the "brutal sanctions" Iraq suffered for more than a decade; and to the official Russian position that the Volcker Committee report was based on "forgeries."

Raising the question "Why is my name in this report?" Mr. Singh pointed out, for a start, that it was curious that his name did not figure in the main report but turned up, without any discussion or indication of the source of information, in a couple of tables.

He indicted Paul Volcker, former chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve, and his "Independent Inquiry Committee" for violating all rules of fairness and targeting those who were opposed to the United States' aggressive actions against Iraq. Mr. Singh emphasised that there must be a political design behind naming him in the Committee's report. "I opposed sanctions, I opposed the war, and I opposed sending Indian troops to Iraq." India's External Affairs Minister wanted to know why Mr. Volcker had headed the Committee and not "some independent person from the developing world."

"Has anyone talked to them [Masefield AG, the contracting company]? Why not ask them? Is there any evidence that I or my son ever had contact with this company or any other company involved in this? Is there any evidence that I had ever heard of this company? How do I figure in this?"

Mr. Singh expressed anguish over The Hindu "highlighting" the Committee's allegations against him without telephoning him for a response to be published simultaneously. (He was abroad and could not be contacted in time.) He said the newspaper owed it to him to highlight, on its front page, his strong refutation of the false and malicious charges against him.

"I am 74 years old and, at this stage in my life, nothing is more important than my good name," Mr. Singh assured me.

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