NEW DELHI (AP) – Angry opposition members repeatedly disrupted India”s parliament on Friday, demanding the prosecution of the former foreign minister and the resignation of Congress party leader Sonia Gandhi, following fresh allegations surrounding the Iraqi oil-for-food program.
The opposition outburst was prompted by an interview given by the Indian ambassador to Croatia, Aneil Mathrani, to a television channel in which he detailed ex-External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh”s alleged involvement in the scheme.
An independent U.N. inquiry, headed by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, implicated the Congress party, Singh and scores of Indian private companies as illegal beneficiaries of the oil-for-food program during Saddam Hussein”s rule in Iraq.
Mathrani, a former Congress official, was part of a delegation which Singh led to Iraq in 2001. In an interview with the Aaj Tak channel, he said that the Iraqis had rewarded Singh with an oil allotment for his "personal service."
According to the Volcker report, Saddam corrupted the program by awarding contracts to, and getting kickbacks from, favored buyers.
A transcript of the Mathrani interview was released Friday by India Today, a magazine affiliated with the channel. Mathrani charged that Singh was instrumental in introducing his son Jagat and his cousin Andaleeb Sehgal to Iraqi officials, in order to participate in the scheme.
"When Natwar introduced his son and Sehgal to all the Iraqi officials he didn”t have to say anything," Mathrani said. "They could go later and do whatever business they wanted to do," he said.
Mathrani said the "entire operation was managed through the Iraqi Embassy in Delhi and in Jordan. The Iraqis needed a green signal (for oil allocation) and it was provided by Natwar. He organised the delegation and introduced the ones who would execute whatever was given."
Addressing parliament, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh reiterated that the guilty would be punished. But this failed to pacify the opposition, led by the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, whose members shouted slogans like "Sonia Gandhi is corrupt."
Several BJP members demanded that the government should register a criminal case against the former foreign minister on the basis of the Indian ambassador”s interview.
"I do not want Natwar Singh to be made a scapegoat of the scam. He has to go. But the whole Congress party is involved in it," BJP leader L.K. Advani said.
Advani demanded Gandhi”s resignation as the chairperson of the ruling United Progress Alliance. The attacks on the Congress party and its leader prompted angry exchanges, forcing repeated adjournment of both houses of Parliament.
Earlier this month, the prime minister stripped External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh of his post and made him minister without portfolio after he was implicated by the Volcker report.
The government appointed a retired Supreme Court chief justice to investigate the role of Natwar Singh, the Congress party and others.
The government also has appointed Virendra Dayal, a former U.N. undersecretary general, as India”s special envoy to liaise with the United Nations to get to the bottom of the matter.
On Friday, Prime Minister Singh said the investigative agency, the Enforcement Directorate, has assured the government that its investigation was on the right track and it would be able to establish facts expeditiously.
"We should not prejudge the final outcome of investigations or pre-empt the inquiry ordered by the government," the prime minister said.