Agency gets seven days to reply on oil-for-food case

Agency gets seven days to reply on oil-for-food case
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First Published: Wed, Sep 17 2008. 11 58 PM IST

Costly deal: Former cabinet minister Natwar Singh.
Costly deal: Former cabinet minister Natwar Singh.
Updated: Wed, Sep 17 2008. 11 58 PM IST
New Delhi: The Central Information Commission has ordered the Enforcement Directorate to disclose whether it is in possession of a report filed by former special envoy to the United Nations,Virender Dayal, about his meeting with UN officials in November 2005 over the “oil-for-food” scam in Iraq.
The commission’s request comes after the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), the external affairs ministry and the finance ministry all denied having possession of the report. The scam reached into the highest echelons of Indian politics with cabinet minister Natwar Singh having to leave his post.
A senior official with the Enforcement Directorate said he couldn’t immediately confirm whether the department was in possession of the report. “If we have to, we will send whatever is asked for to the commission,” said this officer on condition of anonymity.
The issue came up when the commission discussed a Right to Information (RTI) applicant’s efforts to know why contracts entered into by Reliance Petroleum Ltd in Iraq were not referred to the justice R.S. Pathak inquiry committee that had gone into Indian allegations of corruption in Iraq.
Costly deal: Former cabinet minister Natwar Singh.
The directorate was asked on Monday to say within seven days if such a report is indeed held by the department and why details of the report shouldn’t be disclosed.
RTI applicant Arun Agrawal persisted for two years with an application seeking information on Dayal’s appointment, scope of his brief to obtain papers relating to Volcker report and his report to the ministry after meeting the UN officials. The application filed in September 2006 was addressed to the ministry of law and justice.
During his submission before the commission, Agrawal has alleged that the special envoy and by extension, the directorate “deliberately did not collect the documents for three contracts (M/9/35, M/10/17 and M/11/25) by which allotments were made to Reliance Petroleum on payment of illegal surcharge.” (These contracts do find mention in the tables appended to the Volcker report.)
It is unclear as to why Agrawal has sought information specifically on Dayal’s report to the law ministry even while contending that details pertaining to these contracts had not been gathered in the first place.
The RTI application was also then transferred to the ministry of external affairs, the PMO and the finance ministry, all of whom denied having possession of the file. The PMO, in November 2006, turned down the request for a copy of the file submitted by Dayal citing an exemption clause in the Act, which comes into play when information sought is perceived to compromise the sovereignty and integrity of the nation.
However, an undersecretary with the department of revenue, S.G.P. Verghese, during an RTI hearing on 11 September “bashfully submitted” that the information provided by him during a previous hearing could have caused confusion. Verghese, who is the chief principal information officer for the department of revenue said that the directorate had neither confirmed nor denied holding the report and had merely informed him that the directorate did not fall under the purview of the RTI Act.
The commission argued that information pertaining to allegations of corruption and human rights violation couldn’t be excluded from the ambit of the RTI Act even if they were held by an organization that had been exempted.
Mint couldn’t locate Agrawal or ascertain why he filed the RTI application. Relevant commission officials were unavailable for comment.
The Paul Volcker report made public a list of corporations and politicians across the world who gained from the oil-for-food payoffs said to have been devised by former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein to generate income from the United Nations’ Oil for Food Programme.
The Volcker committee was set up by the United Nations and named Singh, who resigned from the Manmohan Singh cabinet on 6 December 2005, the Congress party and several Indian companies as beneficiaries of the scam.
A spokesperson for Reliance Industries Ltd wasn’t available for comment.
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First Published: Wed, Sep 17 2008. 11 58 PM IST
More Topics: Oil-for-food scam | CIC | ED | Iraq | Natwar Singh |