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Natwar knew about oil deals: Mathrani

Last updated on: December 02, 2005 19:15 IST

Television channel Aaj Tak on Friday claimed former external affairs minister Natwar Singh knew about the Iraqi oil deal and in fact was very much party to the business dealings of Andaleeb Sehgal's company in which Natwar's son Jagat Singh had commercial interests.

The report was based on a long taped interview of Indian Ambassador to Croatia Aniel Mathrani, who had complete knowledge about Natwar's visit  to Baghdad and held a series of meetings with top Ba'ath party officials of Iraq, including Tariq Aziz and the then Iraqi President Saddam Hussien.

Saddam had been then allowed to sell oil for food by the United Nations to keep Iraq's economy afloat.

Mathrani, who worked closely with Singh in the All India Congress Committee Foreign Affairs Cell before Congress came to power, told the news channel that both the allotees of oil coupons -- Natwar and the Congress -- are exactly the same.

"The fact of the matter is that both allotees...in my view are exactly the same...one has been to Natwar and the other one to the Congress Party. One for Natwar's personal services. Do not forget that he has been the one who has been expousing Iraq's cause," he said.

Mathrani said Natwar's son Jagat and his cousin Andaleeb Sehgal had joined the delegation in Iraq in 2001 and stayed with them at the same hotel owned by the then ruling Ba'ath Party.

He claimed that the former external affairs minister told the Iraqi ambassador that he would like his son to accompany him as it would be a difficult journey.

"When we reached the airport, Jagat Singh came there and he took the flight with us. At the airport (in Baghdad) we were received by Indian embassy officials and taken to Hotel Intercontinental. After we assembled in the lobby, Andaleeb Sehgal appeared," he said.

Natwar then introduced Andaleeb as his son's cousin and somebody who is familiar with Iraq and whose visit to Iraq was timed at the same time by coincidence, Mathrani said.

Mathrani claimed that both Jagat and Andaleeb were present at the dinner hosted by the then Indian Ambassador to Iraq.

"Hotel Al Rashid, where the delegation stayed, was a Baath Party hotel and all who stayed there were guests of the party. Now you see the transition in Baghdad. Jagat became part of the delegation and he and Andaleeb checked-in with us," he said.

"You cannot check into a Baath party hotel unless you are a part of the the delegation. So local hospitality from the Iraqi's was offered to Jagat and Andaleeb which they accepted," Mathrani added.

Mathrani said the groundwork for payoffs was laid during the delegation's visit to Iraq as the 'important thing was to take that delegation and have these two (Jagat and Sehgal) in it and to have them introduced formally.

"When Natwar introduced his son and Sehgal to all the Iraqi officials he didn't have to say anything. All that he had to do was to show that they were in the delegation, and that they were his son and his (Jagat's) cousin, and therefore it was confidential.

"They could go later and do whatever business they wanted to do. You don't have to say anything to the face. The fact that they were introduced was a clear signal to the Iraqi's," he was quoted as saying in transcript published by India Today.

Mathrani claimed that the 'entire operation was managed through the Iraqi Embassy in Delhi and in Jordan. The Iraqis needed a green signal (for oil allocation) and Natwar provided it. He organised the delegation and introduced the ones who would execute whatever was given," he added.

He claimed that the members of the delegation had come to know about the activities of Jagat and Anadaleeb, but did not question it as 'you don't question what the head of your delegation is doing'.

He said Natwar, Jagat and Sehgal were confined to Natwar's room. "It was a very closed group. By that time it was becoming quite clear that they were looking for trade."

"Because of Sehgal's activities it was clear that he was a businessman looking to do some business in Iraq, that Jagat was helping him and that they were partners."

(With Agency inputs)

Volcker Report: Complete Coverage

Onkar Singh in New Delhi