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Volcker issue all set to rock Parliament
Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi | November 28, 2005 00:10 IST
Lok Sabha is likely to discuss the controversial Volcker Report on Monday through a Bharatiya Janata Party-sponsored adjournment motion.
An independent committee of the United Nations led by Paul Volcker that probed Iraq's corrupt oil-for-food programme had, in it findings, listed the Congress and former external affairs minister Natwar Singh as non-contractual beneficiaries.
Many other countries, whose leaders were also named in the report, have ignored the report.
In India, though, it created a political storm resulting in Natwar being divested of the external affairs portfolio. The government had to order an enquiry into the findings.
Both the government and the opposition are poring over the report to dig out any dirt that they can hurl at the rival.
The Congress has the might of the official machinery. Party leaders who will participate in the debate have a simple three point agenda.
The government, under tremendous opposition pressure, appointed Virendra Dayal as a special envoy to get information from the UN and Paul Volcker himself.
Also, another probe headed by retired chief justice R S Pathak has also been commissioned.
Dayal has already got essential documents from the committee.
The Congress can use these two probes and buy time, asking the country to wait for the final findings.
Meanwhile, the Enforcement Department has left no stone unturned in its efforts to collect all possible information on Natwar Singh's son Jagat Singh's and his close friend Andy Sehgal.
Jagat Singh and Sehgal are allegedly the ones who benefited by Natwar Singh's alleged proximity to the Saddam Hussein Administration.
Hence the Congress is desperately trying to distance itself from Natwar Singh.
Meanwhile, the government has stumbled on more than two companies that have done 'illegal and highly objectionable' dealings with Saddam.
These companies, if found guilty, can be tried under Acts dealings with violations of national security.
One of these companies is already under the Central Bureau of Investigation scanner.
One of the owners, is reportedly close to Uttar Pradesh chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav and Amar Singh of Samajwadi party and Yashwant Sinha of BJP, was booked by the CBI in 2002 for duty evasion.
He was also under scrutiny in a bribery case involving a former chief excise commissioner.
The ED has found a few leads where some intelligence surveillance equipments were exported to Iraq clandestinely.
And in another instance, a few items procured from North Korea were routed through India to Iraq.
On the political front, former Congress leader and ex-Lok Sabha speaker Najma Heptulla, former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's son-in-law Ranjan Bhattacharya and former petroleum minister Ram Naik are those who are under these agencies' scrutiny.
Though the Congress knows the Volcker controversy is not another Bofors, it has taken it seriously and wants to shake off the shadow of corruption.
The Left parties have helped Congress to an extent, dismissing the Volcker report.
In fact, the Communist Party of India has said all dealings of the National Democratic Alliance also need to be probed.
"There are certain large oil contracts taken up during the previous NDA regime. These are outside the purview of the inquiry ordered by the government. These should also be brought within the ambit of the inquiry," CPM General Secretary Prakash Karat said soon after a meeting of Left Parties to chalk out a strategy for the winter session.
While the Congress' argument will be in smashing the credibility of the Volcker Committee, the opposition has a few questions.
Even if it is able to prove Sehgal misused the Congress' name in securing the deal, the Congress will remain vulnerable because there is no way it can prove the party did not directly benefit from the deal. Some doubts will remain and that, observers say, unnerves Sonia Gandhi.
While researching for the debate, an opposition member stumbled on an Italian businessman's dealings with Iraq.
The businessman in question is one Roberto Formigoni, who was elected governor of Italy's prosperous Lombardy in 1995.
Formigoni led a delegation of Italian businessmen in April 2002 and hit the headlines when he said, "Sonia Gandhi has become totally Indian -- in her culture and mentality." He showered more praise on Sonia and said, "She is a very interesting lady."
Financial Times, London, carried an investigative feature in February 2005 on how Formigoni got the best deals directly from Saddam. The report said he was allotted 24 million barrels of oil!
Minister of State for External Affairs Rao Inderjit Singh, on an official visit to Italy in May, met Formigoni in Lombardy.
An official release had then said both parties were satisfied with the relationship between the countries and that Formigoni accepted an invitation to visit India again.
Put all these together and you have rollicking winter session on your hands.
See our complete coverage for more on the Volcker controversy