A day after the Attorney General informed the Supreme Court that liquor baron Vijay Mallya, facing a probe into alleged loan default, had left the country on March 2, a political row erupted over his departure.
Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi accused the government of “helping” Mallya leave the country, a charge rejected by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley who reminded the main Opposition party that it was in power when Bofors accused Ottavio Quattrocchi left India.
Underlining that there was a difference between the two cases, Jaitley said that by the time Mallya left, the banks had not initiated the legal process. “That day, there was no order of any agency to stop him (from leaving the country)”. He said Mallya left the country before the banks moved the Supreme Court for seizure of his passport.
In Rajya Sabha, Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad accused the government of “criminal conspiracy” in letting Mallya fly out of the country. In Lok Sabha, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Rajiv Pratap Rudy said Mallya is “no saint for us” and that he has “not been given a single penny” by the government.
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Outside the House, Rahul Gandhi said the entire country was questioning why the government was “helping” people like Mallya and not keeping its promise of bringing back black money and “giving Rs 15 lakh into every person’s bank account”.
Maintaining that the government’s ‘fair and lovely’ tax amnesty scheme was only helping those converting black black money into white, he said: “When a poor man steals, he is beaten up and thrown into jail. Someone who does not have food to eat and steals a roti is beaten up and put behind bars and a big businessmen who steals Rs 9,000 crore, you allow him to escape in First Class from the country. What is this happening?”
“We simply asked that someone who stole Rs 9,000 crore from the country, how did he run away from the country. How did you allow him to escape? This is the simple question and we neither got a reply to this from Modiji nor from Jaitleyji. The question is why did your government allow him to run away from the country,” Rahul told reporters.
Jaitley hit back: “Rahulji should remember that there is a basic difference in Mallya leaving (the country) and Quattrochi going out (of India). And let me explain him the difference. When officials of Switzerland informed that Quattrochi was also among the beneficiaries of Bofors and though the person who was heading the CBI investigation earlier, K Madhavan, wrote a letter that his passport should be impounded, the then government had not stopped him and within two days he left India. That was a criminal case.”
Speaking in Rajya Sabha, Jaitley said banks are taking necessary steps to recover money from Mallya and have been asked to recover “every penny that is due”. He cited that loans were extended to Mallya in 2004 and renewed in 2008 — during UPA I — and were declared non-performing assets in 2009 — during UPA II. “In what circumstances were the loans given is an issue of investigation and the CBI is investigating… How these accounts were running, what facilities were given, the dates tell their own story… when the loans were given, how they were given,” he said without naming the UPA.
On Ghulam Nabi Azad’s remark that Mallya should not be allowed to become “second Lalit Modi”, Jaitley said “you” imposed FEMA on Lalit Modi before his exit while the more serious PMLA was imposed only after he left the country. “Aap ko aatmanirikshan karne ki zaroorat padegi (you need to introspect),” he said.