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Saturday, October 29, 2005

BBC NEWS | South Asia | Indian minister denies oil claims

BBC NEWS | South Asia | Indian minister denies oil claims Indian minister denies oil claims
India's Foreign Minister, Natwar Singh, has denied allegations that he was a beneficiary of the UN oil-for-food for Saddam Hussein's regime.

"I am deeply shocked and outraged by these allegations which are baseless and untrue," Mr Singh said.

An inquiry led by Paul Volcker named Mr Singh and India's ruling Congress Party as "non-contractual beneficiaries" of Iraqi oil sales in 2001.

The Congress Party has also denied it was "in any way involved".

India's main opposition BJP has called for the immediate resignation of Mr Singh.

"Mr Natwar Singh cannot continue as India's foreign minister. He must go immediately," BJP spokesman Arun Jaitley told journalists at a news conference in Delhi.

"My record in public life for the past 50 years and more has been an open book. My personal integrity has never been questioned," Mr Singh said in a statement.

"This is obviously part of the continuing campaign to malign the Congress Party and its senior leaders and functionaries."

Mr Volcker's report says more than 2,000 firms linked to the UN oil-for-food programme in Iraq were involved in making illicit payments to the Iraqi government.

'Kickbacks'

Reports appearing on Saturday in India's The Hindu newspaper says the Volcker report names Mr Singh and the Congress party in connection with one of the firms named, Masefield AG, which was allotted four million barrels of oil under the programme.

Under the programme, Saddam Hussein's government could sell oil as long as the proceeds were used to buy humanitarian goods.

Companies buying oil at cut prices would funnel extra money to Iraq through "surcharges" while those receiving money from Iraq for humanitarian goods and services would return a portion in "kickbacks", the report found.

Individuals named in the report include a former French UN ambassador, Jean-Bernard Merrimee, who has admitted receiving one oil allocation only.

Russian parliamentarian Vladimir Zhirinovsky and British MP George Galloway are also both named but have denied the allegations.
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