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Rediff.com  » News » Fernandes 'silenced' during Volcker debate

Fernandes 'silenced' during Volcker debate

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November 29, 2005 00:04 IST

George Fernandes, former defence minister and National Democratic Alliance leader, was not allowed to speak on Roberto Formigoni, an Italian politician, during the Volcker debate in Parliament on Monday.

Fernandes started his speech saying that he wanted to know the kind of relations the Congress has with the Italians. Obviously he was taking political advantage of details in the Volcker report.

More than the Opposition who moved the motion to debate Volcker, it was the Congress who looked better prepared.

Complete coverage: The Volcker report

Around 270-odd politicians from 52 countries have been listed in the United Nations report as having received vouchers for Iraqi oil. Formigoni, the report says, continuously got favours from Saddam Hussein in form of oil deals from January 1998 to 2003.

When Fernandes alleged that then External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh and Congress President Sonia Gandhi had sent a message to Formigoni six months ago, Congressmen were out of their seats protesting.

Fact is that Minister of State for External Affairs Rao Inderjit Singh went to Italy on an official tour and met with Formigoni in north Italy, which Fernandes did not mention.

Congress MP Pawan Bansal raised a Point of Order that bars members from raising irrelevant points when an adjournment motion is debated.

Speaker Somnath Chatterji accepted the objection and asked Fernandes to stick to the structured agenda and not mention Formigoni.

Chatterji said he should only talk about Indian entities and not about Italians. Fernandes unsuccessfully tried to convince the Speaker that to know the truth of the Volcker findings it is necessary to know Italians connection with the Congress.

Fernandes, a known Sonia Gandhi baiter, mentioned that 'Natwar Singh and Sonia Gandhi' were jointly accused in the Volcker report.

Parliamentary Affairs Minister Priya Ranjan Dasmunshi took objection to this and said that Gandhi is not named in the report.

Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee said angrily that, "Fernandes' personal vendetta and frustration is visible."

Fernandes also alleged that transactions from Iraqi oil deals Formigoni and the Congress were deposited in the same bank in Jordan.

Dasmunshi stood up along with almost all Congress members and alleged that Fernandes was a habitual offender of parliamentary norms.

Finance Minister P Chidambaram also stood up and objected. He and Minister for Science Kapil Sibal looked perplexed at Fernandes' allegations. Lalu Yadav, who was dozing, woke up in the commotion. He too joined Sibal and Chidambaram in sniggering.

The Speaker asked Fernandes not to name Sonia Gandhi. He said Fernandes can only mention Natwar Singh and the Congress party as "non-contractual beneficiaries" under the Oil-for-Food programme.

Bharatiya Janata Party President L K Advani asked Congressmen why are they getting edgy when Sonia Gandhi's name is mentioned.

Fernandes had in his hand details of an investigative report by the Financial Times on February 9. It investigated how the trail of the Oil-for-Food programme leads to Lombardy at the doorsteps of Italian Governor Roberto Formigoni, who was the first western politician targeted by the Volcker Committee.

In 2002, Formigoni had visited India with a business delegation and praised Sonia Gandhi.

According to the report, Formigoni was a leading personality who denounced the US invasion and wanted the US to lift sanctions against Iraq. He was one of Iraq's foremost supporters and had close relations with Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz and Oil Minister Amir Rashid. 

Formigoni received  24 million barrels as per documents of the Iraqi oil ministry, that the Volcker committee studied. That was the largest allocation by Saddam Hussein to any western politician. According to the Times investigation, "the archives describe his allocations as a 'special request', with hand-written annotations explaining that the amounts had been personally authorised 'by the President'."

Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi