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27 July 2009 National rice export: scam

This Private Deal Needs Public Scrutiny

The rice export deal is being investigated in Ghana, but ignored here, despite patent inconsistencies

In May this year, Ghana’s Bureau of National Investigation (BNI)—similar to the CBI—launched an investigation into the import of rice from India in 2008. The BNI summoned former foreign affairs minister Akwasi Osei-Adjei to depose before it. His passport was seized to prevent him from leaving the country.

Osei-Adjei, while denying any wrongdoing in the deal, as reported in the Ghana media, made an intriguing statement. However, the Indian government, caught in the throes of a general election, chose to ignore the minister’s statement.

Osei-Adjei said the rice was imported through the Delhi-based trading company Amira Foods (India) Ltd because they had been “recommended by the State Trading Corporation (STC).” But Indian officials in the ministry of commerce and industry state unequivocally that Ghana had recommended Amira Foods (I) Ltd. Either way, it indicates that the company had managed to wield considerable influence in both countries to take over a deal which was, as stated by India, a strictly “government-to-government transaction.”

Curiously enough, while Amira Foods refused to respond to questions from Outlook, its vice president Protik Guha continued to question the publication of a story on the deal. He insisted it was “a private deal and the information was not in the public domain”.

Meanwhile, former Ghanaian bureaucrat Kwaku Ampratwum Sarpong lent a twist to the issue by stating that Ghana had “rejected the recommendation” from STC to appoint Amira Foods (I) Ltd. While Ghana investigates the deal, suspected to be worth some Rs 50 crore, India continues to ignore the case.

With the UPA government in place, the two ministries and ministers who oversaw the controversial export continue to be in government. Former commerce & Industry minister Kamal Nath has a new portfolio, while then food and public distribution minister Sharad Pawar continues to hold on to his ministry along with the agriculture portfolio.

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OUTLOOK: 27 July, 2009
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