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Home > News > Specials

The Rediff Special/Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi

'I have never spoken against Sonia Gandhi'

November 08, 2005

Professor Haridarshan Singh Mejie (75), chairman of PCP group of companies withbusiness interests in Iraq, has been in the news recently because of his outspoken remarks indirectly indicting former external affairs minister Natwar Singh in the Iraqi Oil-for-Food scam.

His assertion --first to rediff.com and then to several television channels -- thatNatwar and his sonJagat had visited Baghdad looking for business and that Iraqi Oil Minister Aamer Rashid had told him howNatwar was favoured by the Saddam government, caused immense embarrassment forthe Congress party.

Mejie also claims that Natwar Singh-- who has denied knowing him -- had dinner at his house in Baghdad along with former Maharashtra chief minister A R Antulay.

The Congress dismissed his claims as "baseless charges of a person without any locus standi in the matter" while Natwar's lobby, on the back-foot because of Mejie's remarks, dismissed him as 'loud mouth.'

Mejie, knownto be a maverick,hasa M.Tech from IIT, a Masters of Mechanical Engineering from University of Illinois and a Post Graduate Diploma from Roorkee University.

An engineer with more than 50 years experience in diverse fields, he started asaLecturer in Production Engineering at RoorkeeUniversity in 1954. In 1969, he was invited by the Punjab government to head the first joint sector company, Punjab Chemi Plants Limited (PCP), as aprivate partner and managing director. Over the years, PCP acquired international standing and diversified into various disciplines and built a number of associate companies.

Mejiefirst took PCP overseas in 1976 to Kuwait,and soon moved on to Qatar, Iraq, UKand the US. He has been in Iraq since 1978 and did not pull outeven when the Gulf war started. He is into marketing with various UN organizations, including the oil-for-foodprogramme of Iraq, and became India's largest player in Baghdad.

In 1996, hebegan working with the UN Peacekeeping Operations.

Afterthe telecast of his views on the Volcker report, Mejie is upset that a television channeltwisted his quotes and sensationalized it by implying that Congress President Sonia Gandhi could be involved in the oil scam.

"I have never spoken against Congress President Sonia Gandhi. Not that I am afraid to speak out but I do not have any proof to involve her or the Congressparty. I know what was happening in Baghdad and it is not fair to drag her in the issue without anyevidence," he told rediff.com.

Although under tremendous pressure, Mejie is unwilling to retract his statements againstNatwar and his visit to Baghdad with his son. Natwarwas in Iraq to seek oilbusiness and "surely, there are some evidences involving his son Jagatand his relative-friend," he said.

Astrong supporterof Saddam Hussein, Mejiebelievesthe deposed Iraqi President did not do anything wrongby selling oil to his favourites because Iraqwas a sovereign nation and Hussein had the right to sell oil to the supporters of Iraq.

In an exclusive conversation with Managing EditorSheela Bhatt, Mejieshared his deep insight into the UN Oil-for-Food programme, because of which NatwarSingh lost his portfolio on Monday.


How did the Oil for Food Program function?
There were two aspects to it. First was the sale of oil by Iraq and the second the supply of goods.

The United Nations Security Council had in July 1996 (Under Resolution No 986) allowed Iraq to sell oil under strict "contractual conditions", for the purpose of obtaining "funds for purchase of humanitarian goods". These contractual conditions broadly were:

  • Oil will be sold at a price level approved by an 'International Experts Committee'.
  • Oil will be sold to direct users -- refinery owners or those traders nominated by a refinery.
  • The income from the sales was to be deposited in an Escrow account at the French BNP Bank, New York branch. Funds were to be utilised as per the UN Resolution. The major part being for purchase of humanitarian goods while the minor part was for transportation of the goods as well as 'after sales service'.


How did Saddam Hussein implement the programme?
The procedure for contractual sale by Iraqi government was something like this:

At the head of the chain of command was the Iraqi President. The Iraqi oil ministry would clear proposals to sell the oil to UN approved list of buyers. Once cleared, contractual vouchers would be issued to the buyers, who would pay for it into the Escrow account. They would then liftoil at the Al Bakur terminal in Turkey.

The Oil-for-Food programme was initially approved for six months but later kept on being extended by the UN. Iraq needed the vocal support of some of the countries that were close to it. So the Saddam regime used the contractual vouchers to bribe political leaders/parties to get that support. Natwar Singh is termed as 'non-contractual beneficiary'.
The documents of 'non-contractual sales were maintained by the Iraqi oil ministry. These records were not destroyed during the war but were taken away and made available to UN Security Council.


What do you think about the Volcker report, which lists many people and companies of India?
We knew that the committee was formed and that all documents recovered from Iraq's oil ministry would be available to it. We also know that the committee wrote to all people whose names were mentioned in the records. Those that responded, the committee members visited them personally.

PCP International was also mentioned in the Volcker report.

We responded and three experts of the team spent three hours with us in our Dubai office. We know that all names in the various lists of 650-page Volcker report are factual and based on the records at their disposal.

What do you think about those Natwar Singh and the Congress party who have been named in report?
We feel the committee's report is based upon facts and documents available. I stand by my belief that the UN has documented proof against everybody named in the Volcker report. The two individuals (including Natwar Singh) named are those who met me in Baghdad. They claimed to me that they were there 'to call on the President (Saddam Hussein)'.

In Iraq only Saddam authorized all oil deals. Without his nod not a barrel could move.

The orders for issue of oil vouchers for the non-contractual deals were issued only on the President's written orders.
Saddam feared for his life after the first Gulf War.

He was paranoid about security and met very few people they had to be really important for him to meet them. With regard to an Indian political party named in the report, I believe there must be something on record with the committee but I am not privy to those documents.

What do you think about allegations against so many Indian companies?
These are names of the 'supply or trading' companies from all over the world, who supplied 'humanitarian goods' to Iraq after Phase VI (the third year of the Oil-for-Food programme). In 1999, with the start of phase VII, the companies supplying material, were given some conditions:

  • An Iraqi government company would transport goods from port of entry till delivery to stores. Their rates were not much more than private transportation. So all bidders accepted this and incorporated the transport cost in their offers.
  • After sales service charges -- the Iraqi authorities, while issuing bids, told suppliers to provide either 'after service' or pay 10 per cent of the cost to the Iraqi government.

The transport costs and after sales service margins were all the time approved by a UN committee, which includes nominees from the United States and the United Kingdom. Many times our bid was much less than the market price.

At that time, these members were aware of these charges but approved it because of political compulsions of that time. My company's name is included in the list but Volcker's staff gave us a clean chit.

Complete Coverage: The Volcker Report


The Rediff Specials


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Number of User Comments: 5




Sub: Mr Natwar Singh and Oil for Food Program.

It was distressing to see a Cabinet Minister lose his mental balance and threaten to derail his own govt's foreign policy.What is more disturbing is ...


Posted by vaidyanathan krishnan





Sub: Being Afraid.

Hello, I am afraid of Congres Party, CPI(M), and many other groups who have definitely been vengeful to people who had independent ideas and mind. ...


Posted by Prakash





Sub: No proof against Sonia says NRI

The NRI who says that the Volcker Reports is based on well documented proof gives clean chit to Sonia. Is he trying to fool the ...


Posted by S. Venkataraman





Sub: Volker committee report

On the basis of the article appeared in your website, Natwar is clearly guilty. If found guilty by the commission appointed by the central government, ...


Posted by HRS Mani





Sub: Deterirating faith and human values

Indeed,a rural folk in India may not be knowing the deteriration faith and human values.It is due to the cause that majority of politicians in ...


Posted by K.Neelakantaiah




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