India says it will investigate allegations that its foreign minister and the ruling Congress Party benefited illegally from the erstwhile U.N. oil-for-food program in Iraq. The accusations, contained in a United Nations report, have created a political storm in India.
The Indian government on Monday named retired Chief Justice R.S. Pathak as head of a judicial probe into claims in a recent U.N. report that Foreign Minister
benefited from secret deals linked to the Iraq oil-for-food program.
The United Nations report says more than 2,000 companies worldwide and politicians in several nations made illegal payments to Saddam Hussein's government in return for contracts under the oil-for-food program. The report says the illegal transactions helped Saddam Hussein divert nearly $2 billion that should have gone toward humanitarian goods.
The report names 74-year old Natwar Singh and the Congress Party, which heads the present coalition government, as "non-contractual beneficiaries." That means they did not have a contract to officially receive the oil, but otherwise received some payment from an oil transaction. Both have strongly denied the allegation.
The judicial investigation was announced a day after the government asked former Indian envoy to the United Nations, Virendra Dayal to investigate the credibility of the report's claims against Mr. Singh.
The Indian prime minister's spokesman, Sanjaya Baru, says the inquiries will help the government establish the truth of the charges.
"Prime minister has said he would like to go to the root of the matter … to go to the root of the matter you will need someone to find out what are the facts, and that is what Mr. Dayal's job will be. And Mr. Justice Pathak will conduct a judicial inquiry based on the information available," said Mr. Baru.
The inquiries come after strident demands by the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party for the foreign minister's resignation. Mr. Singh has rejected calls to step down, insisting he received no favors. He says the allegations are intended to discredit the ruling party, which had friendly relations with Baghdad.
Nevertheless the report has become an embarrassment for the government, and it has pledged to do all it can to get to the bottom of the controversy.