Reliance, TCS among questionable contributors to Obama aide (Lead)

April 5th, 2009 - 9:16 pm ICT by IANS  

Barack Obama New York, April 5 (IANS) Two Indian companies were among global organisations that paid thousands of dollars as speaking fee or for advice to a top aide of US President Barack Obama, with possible conflicts of interest now with government programmes, says a leading Internet newspaper.
Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries and top IT firm Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) are among the firms that gave the money to Obama’s chief economic advisor Larry Summers, says Huffington Post.

Quoting from the personal disclosures of high-ranking administration officials, the paper says Reliance paid $187,500 toward advisory board compensation to him, while TCS paid $67,500 as speaking fee as on Sep 21, last year.

The documents were released by White House late Friday and show that these firms, which paid hundreds of dollars to Summers, “have direct financial interests before the government or are intimately involved in the White House’s bank relief programs.”

“The document provided for Summers, who serves as one of the president’s closest confidants, underscores just how close some of these officials are to the industry over which they now have oversight,” it says.

“The speech payments will undoubtedly raise questions as to the impartiality of the economic advice Summers is providing to the president,” the paper says.

“Already viewed as too favourably disposed to Wall Street interests, the lavish payments for speeches will provide further fodder for those who think the administration has been forgiving in their approach to the banking industry.”

The website of Reliance Industries lists Summers as a member of its innovation council that has the stated objective of providing vision to the group. When contacted, a company spokesperson said Summers had joined the Reliance advisory board during “his Harvard days” but quit when he joined the government.

“There is no conflict of interest,” he said. “When he (Summers) joined the government, he quit all his other posts, he quit this (the Reliance assignment) also. What he does now cannot have a bearing on the past.”

Citibank, JP Morgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, hedge fund DE Shaw, Lehman Brothers and PricewaterhouseCoopers are among the companies that made payments to Summers running into millions of dollars.

Even though the issue has raised a major controversy in the US, White House spokesperson Ben LaBolt defended Summers.

“Given that Dr. Summers is widely recognized as one of the country’s most distinguished economists and formerly served as treasury secretary, there was considerable interest in hearing his economic insights from companies across various industries,” he said.

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