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Indian FM says ready for Iraqi oil-for-food probe
Updated: 2005-11-01 16:13

Indian Foreign Minister Natwar Singh said he was ready for any probe into charges that he benefited from deals linked to the United Nations' oil-for-food programme for Iraq.

"I have no objection to any probe," the Press Trust of India news agency quoted Singh as telling reporters in New Delhi on Monday.

Singh's remark came as the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) called for his resignation after he was named as a non-contractual beneficiary of four million barrels of oil allotted to a firm named Masefield AG.

In addition the Congress party, India's oldest political entity, is listed as beneficiary of a separate allotment of four million barrels of oil as part of the transactions.

Reliance Petroleum Ltd, a subsidiary of India's largest private sector group Reliance, is also among those who benefited from allotments now under scrutiny.

"How can he continue as India's foreign minister even for a day if the UN report mentions him as a non-contractual beneficiary for manipulated payment in the UN oil-for-food programme," BJP spokesman Arun Jaitely told reporters in New Delhi.

"Every word he speaks will be suspect and his statements on foreign affairs will be suspect," he said.

An inquiry, headed by former US Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker, found that Saddam Hussein's regime manipulated the programme to extract about 1.8 billion dollars in surcharges and bribes, while an inept UN headquarters failed to exert administrative control.

According to the 500-page report, 139 companies paid illegal oil surcharges to Baghdad and 2,253 firms gave Saddam's regime kickbacks on humanitarian-related goods shipped to Iraq.

Singh denied any wrongdoing by him or his ruling Congress party in the 100-billion-dollar programme.

In a statement Saturday he said the allegations were aimed at discrediting the Congress party, which had friendly ties with Baghdad until 2003 when US-led forces toppled the Iraqi regime.

On Sunday, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said he stood by his foreign minister as the facts mentioned in the report were "insufficient" to reach "any adverse conclusion."

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