Indian minister accused in Iraqi oil-for-food scandal

An Indian minister accused of involvement in the Iraqi oil-for-food scandal has offered to resign, news reports said Tuesday. The decision by Natwar Singh, a minister without portfolio, came amid a weeklong boycott of Parliament by the opposition, which has demanded that he step down, the Press Trust of India news agency quoted ruling Congress party spokesman Anand Sharma as saying.

Singh, a former external affairs minister, was stripped of that portfolio after an independent U.N. inquiry implicated him, the Congress party and scores of private companies as illegal beneficiaries of the oil-for-food program during Saddam Hussein's rule in Iraq. Singh has denied any wrongdoing in the US$64 billion (Ђ54 billion) program, which allowed Iraq to sell oil to help ordinary Iraqis cope with U.N. sanctions imposed after Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

The U.N. report said Saddam awarded contracts for humanitarian supplies in return for kickbacks. India's government has started an inquiry into the U.N. report, and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has pledged to punish those found guilty.

Natwar Singh is expected to submit his resignation to the Indian leader after returning Wednesday from an official visit to Russia, The Asian Age newspaper said. His decision to step down followed a meeting Monday night with Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi, who hours earlier removed him from a key party committee. Singh had earlier resisted demands by the opposition Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party to resign, saying that such a step would be tantamount to an admission of guilt, reports the AP. N.U.

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