The Supreme Court today slammed former former Union Minister Natwar Singh and his son for their delaying tactics in multi-crore Iraq's oil-for-food scam probe and granted green signal to Enforcement Directorate to commence the investigation stalled since 2006.
A Bench of Justices B Sudarshan Reddy and S S Nijjar dismissed the appeal filed by Natwar Singh and his son Jagat Singh for supply of certain documents and directed the authorities to expedite the inquiry, initiated in 2006 but delayed due to dilatory tactis of the father-son duo. The former external affairs minister and his son had challenged the show cause notice issued to them by ED for alleged FERA violations and sought supply of documents of Volcker and R S Pathak Committees which had probed their alleged role in Iraq's oil-for-food scam worth 1,46,247.23 US dollars.
"The appellants (Singhs') insisted for supply of all documents in possession of the authority and such demand is based on vague, indefinite and irrelevant grounds. The appellants are not sure as to whether they are asking for copies of the documents in possession of the adjudicating authority or in possession of authorised officer who lodged the complaint. "The only object in making such a demand is obviously to obstruct the proceedings and the appellants, to some extent, have been able to achieve their object as is evident from the fact that the inquiry initiated as early as in the year 2006 still did not even commence," Justice Reddy writing the judgement said.
The apex court said that due to the unreasonable requests of the former minister and his son the investigation could not commence so far even though it was initiated four years ago. "We are constrained to take note of the fact that it is on account of continuous unreasonable requests on the part of the appellants, the adjudicating authority could not deal with the complaint expeditiously which is required to be disposed off within one year from the date of receipt of the complaint. "We accordingly direct the adjudicating authority to deal with the complaint as expeditiously as possible and every endeavour shall be made to dispose off the complaint finally at the earliest. No unreasonable request for adjournment shall be entertained by the adjudicating authority," the apex court said.
Natwar had moved the apex court after the Delhi High Court had earlier rejected their plea. The ED was inquiring into the benefits allegedly derived by the Indians in the scam which was exposed by the UN's Volcker Committee report. It was alleged that the suspects had earned a commission by selling petroleum products given on voucher by the then Iraqi president Saddam Hussein under the UN's oil-for-food programme between 1996 and 2003.
The apex court rejected the argument of the former minister that principles of natural justice have been violated by denying them the copies of the document sought and said such request was an attempt to put roadblocks in the probe. "Even the principles of natural justice are not intended to operate as roadblocks to obstruct statutory inquiries. Duty of adequate disclosure is only an additional procedural safeguard in order to ensure the attainment of fairness and it has own limitations. "The extent of the applicability depends on the statutory framework," the Bench said while interpreting the rules relating to disclosure of documents at the preliminary stage. The apex court, while directing the authorities to expedite the probe, however, said the later shall decide the case purely only merits uninfluenced by any of the observations made by it.