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Home >> World
UPDATED: 12:11, November 08, 2005
Indian FM stands aside over Iraq oil-for-food report
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India's foreign minister stood aside Monday amid a growing political storm after he was named in an independent report into irregularities in the United Nations' Oil-for-Food Programme for Iraq.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will take over Natwar Singh's duties ahead of a key regional summit in Bangladesh this weekend, a spokesman for the prime minister said, adding Natwar Singh would remain in the cabinet pending the outcome of inquiries.

Sanjaya Baru, the spokesman for the premier, said Manmohan Singh would attend the Dhaka summit as planned.

Former US Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker conducted a year-long investigation into the UN's US$64 billion humanitarian programme for Iraq, finding 2,000 companies around the world fed Saddam Hussein's regime about US$2 billion either in direct bribes or surcharges on oil sales through the scheme.

Natwar Singh has denied any wrongdoing and any involvement in oil deals with Iraq. A government statement said he asked the prime minister to relieve him of his portfolio.

But the political heat is not likely to subside soon.

"This is not at all acceptable. He should quit (from the cabinet)," political commentator Kuldip Nayar said. "He still remains a member of government and this is a wrong message."

Volcker's independent inquiry said politicians in several countries were also given oil vouchers that could be sold for a commission in return for helping Iraq's efforts to have UN sanctions lifted.

Both Natwar Singh and the Congress party that leads India's federal coalition were named in the Volcker report and the government has launched two inquiries into its findings.

Natwar Singh, who has been under pressure from the opposition to quit, was not immediately available for comment Monday.

The political storm comes 15 days ahead of election results in the key state of Bihar where polls have forecast an edge for the opposition led-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) alliance.

Source: China Daily

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