Vol 3, PW 11 (23 Jun 99) People & Policy

It is well known that oil minister Ramamurthy has business interests in Singapore.

Hard information on the exact nature of these interests, however, is hard to find, as is information on Ramamurthys son, a former executive with Reliance Industries. All that is known is that during the NELP roadshow in Singapore earlier this year, Ramamurthy used the occasion to meet some local contacts for personal business.

His absence did not go unnoticed among the Indian oil officials accompanying him. Whatever it is, these interests in Singapore clearly have influence with the Indian oil minister at home.

In recent days it has transpired that the Czech company Skoda used Ramamurthys mysterious Singapore contacts to resolve a potentially nasty court battle with the Indian Oil Corporation (IOC). The dispute centres on the construction of IOCs product pipeline from the Gujarat port of Khandla to Bhatinda in Punjab for which Skoda was appointed turnkey contractor.

Upon completion of the contract, both sides accused each other of bad faith and issued writs against each other demanding millions of dollars in damages. The matter is today under arbitration.

Skoda, however, has been looking for an out of court settlement, but until now, IOC has refused, citing reluctance as a state-owned corporation: "At this stage Skoda is understood to have tapped an influential source in Singapore to seek Ramamurthys intervention", writes the Telegraph newspaper in Delhi (8 June). The ruse appears to have worked.

One report suggests IOC has dropped its objections and is now talking to Skoda about an out-of-court settlement.