To Iraq, the intended beneficiary was Natwar of the Congress
Natwar's January 30, 2001 letter to Iraq Oil Minister considered as crucial evidence
NEW DELHI: The close support which the former External Affairs Minister, Natwar Singh, provided to his son Jagat Singh and his acquaintance Andaleeb Sehgal gave Iraqi authorities the impression that Mr. Natwar Singh was the principal actor in the entire project to procure oil from Iraq under the United Nations oil-for-food programme.
This is the conclusion of the Justice R.S. Pathak Inquiry Authority report tabled in Parliament on Monday.
"That impression appears clearly in the letter of May 9, 2001 written by the Executive Director of Iraq's State Oil Marketing Organisation (SOMO) to the Oil Minister in which a reference has been made to two million barrels of oil having been allocated to Masefield in favour of Natwar Singh of the Congress party. The part played by Natwar Singh may have been more limited, in fact, that of a facilitator, but the Iraqi authorities saw no such limitation," the report said.
At the heart of the controversy surrounding Mr. Natwar Singh are three letters written by him to Iraqi Oil Minister Amer Mohammad Rasheed. All the letters, written between January and August 2001, have reference to Mr. Sehgal being described as a cousin of his son Jagat Singh, who was then general secretary of the youth wing of the Congress. In the first letter of January 22, 2001, Mr. Natwar Singh admitted knowing Mr. Sehgal and his company Hamdaan Exports for many years and "he enjoys my full support and confidence."
The letter "demonstrates that Natwar Singh utilised his presence in Iraq not merely for the purpose of representing the Congress party in a goodwill mission but also took the opportunity of lending his assistance in the procurement of the oil allocation to Andaleeb Sehgal who accompanied him on the visit to the Oil Minister," the report said.
The Pathak Inquiry Authority considered the January 30, 2001 letter as one of the most crucial pieces of evidence.
Relying upon the letter of SOMO's Executive Director, the Pathak Authority concluded that in the eyes of the "Iraqi authorities the intended beneficiary of the contract was Natwar Singh of the Indian Congress party. Had Natwar Singh not met the Iraqi Oil Minister on January 22, 2001 when he visited Baghdad, there would have been practically no possibility of Hamdaan Exports obtaining the contract. These allocations were political allocations for which the primary consideration was that the person at whose behest the contract was being allocated was friendly to the people of Iraq and sympathetic to their cause."
The report examined the events that led to the execution of the Contracts M/09/54 and M/10/57 and the subsequent transactions and dealings that took place between various persons and companies involved, either directly or indirectly, in the execution of the two Contracts. It noted that the possibility of getting an allocation of oil in Iraq had started to strengthen by December 2000-January 2001 and the ground work for it had been done by Mr. Sehgal and Aditya Khanna, son of Vipin Khanna, a Non-Resident Indian. They had also floated a company INDRUS which was registered in Jersey, Channel Island, the U.K. in 1996-97. Hamdaan Exports Limited was registered in the British Virgin Islands on February 9, 2001 and the beneficial ownership belonged to Mr. Sehgal.
The report referred to a meeting with the Iraqi Oil Minister where Mr. Natwar Singh, his son and Mr. Sehgal were present and no other member of the Congress delegation was present during its Baghdad visit between January 18 and 24, 2001. "It is apparent that the meeting of Natwar Singh with the Iraqi Oil Minister carried great significance. That can be judged from the fact that SOMO opened its doors to Jagat Singh and Andaleeb Sehgal the very next day ... ," it said.
SOMO needed an authorisation letter from the leader of the Indian delegation to Mr. Sehgal to lift or negotiate the oil allocation with it. "It is evident that during the visit of Congress delegation, Natwar Singh's meeting with the Oil Minister, with Mr. Sehgal accompanying him, played a vital part in the allocation of two million barrels of crude oil to Mr. Sehgal.
The allocation of two million barrels of oil was made to Mr. Sehgal solely because the Iraqi Government wanted to oblige Natwar Singh," the report said. It noted that Mr. Natwar Singh tried to project himself as speaking for the entire Congress, while, in fact, he was addressing a personal request to the Iraqi Government.
The need for assignment of the contract by Hamdaan in favour of Masefield AG, a company registered in Switzerland and owned by Masefield Limited of England, arose because under the U.N. oil-for-food programme only companies approved by the world body or accredited with it were allowed to lift the Iraqi oil.
Since Hamdaan was neither registered with the U.N. nor approved by the world body, it would not have been possible for it to actually lift the oil.