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Last Updated: Tuesday, 6 December 2005, 16:33 GMT
India minister quits in Iraq row
Natwar Singh
Natwar Singh - has finally decided to step down
Indian cabinet minister Natwar Singh says he is resigning following allegations that he benefited from the UN's oil-for-food programme in Iraq.

Mr Singh has been under pressure to quit after being named in an official report into the affair.

He had already lost his post as foreign minister but stayed in the cabinet as minister without portfolio.

As he announced his resignation in Delhi, he still insisted that he had done no wrong.

I am resigning from the cabinet even though I have not violated any laws in letter or spirit
Natwar Singh

"I am resigning from the cabinet even though I have not violated any laws in letter or spirit," he said, speaking to journalists outside his official residence in Delhi.

"I don't wish to be an excuse for the opposition to stall parliament," he said.

There have been scenes of uproar in the federal parliament in recent days as members of the opposition demanded that Mr Singh resign.

The Congress party removed him from its highest decision-making body on Sunday.

Mr Singh had initially refused to leave the cabinet.

In a statement on Sunday, he said to do so would be to suggest he was guilty.

Earlier on Tuesday Congress party spokesman Anand Sharma told reporters that Mr Singh met party chief Sonia Gandhi and spoke to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday to discuss his resignation.


There was uproar in India's parliament again on Tuesday after opposition MPs demanded the resignation of Mr Singh.

On Monday, Mr Singh's son Jagat - who is also alleged to have benefited from the scandal - said his father and he were ready to be investigated by anybody, including the Central Bureau of Investigation, India's top police body.

Natwar Singh with his son Jagat
Natwar Singh and his son Jagat say they are being singled out

He said people should wait for a judicial investigation into the matter to be completed before pointing fingers at them.

Separately, a fellow Congress member and India's ambassador to Croatia, Aneil Matherani, was questioned by officers of the enforcement directorate which investigates financial crimes.

Last week, Mr Matherani suggested in a magazine interview that Natwar Singh had facilitated the procurement of oil vouchers during a visit to Iraq in 2001.

Mr Matherani subsequently claimed that his comments to the magazine, India Today, were made off the record. He has since been recalled to Delhi.

Natwar Singh called the allegation "false and malicious" and said he would consult his lawyers.

'Illegal payments'

The allegations first surfaced in a UN report published in October, in which Natwar Singh and the Congress party were named as non-contractual-beneficiaries of the oil-for-food programme.

The report, written by former US Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker, said more than 2,000 firms made illegal payments to Saddam Hussein's government.

Under the UN programme, Saddam Hussein's government could sell oil as long as the proceeds were used to buy humanitarian goods.

Both Natwar Singh and Congress have denied the allegations.

The Indian government has ordered a judicial investigation headed by a retired Supreme Court judge.


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