A “whistleblower” has decided to go public with internal company communications of the Essar Group that, he says, show how it cultivated individuals in positions of power and influence, showered them with gifts and favours to push its business interests.
The correspondence which includes purported emails and memos refers to meetings with government officials and alleged favours to ministers, bureaucrats and journalists, is the subject matter of a public interest litigation which will be filed in the Supreme Court by the Centre for Public Interest Litigation.
The Indian Express sent a questionnaire about these records to Essar’s spokesperson. Responding to the email, a spokesperson for the company said in a statement: “It is apparent that some of the material is fabricated and some of the allegations are conclusions and inferences being drawn from email stolen from our computers.
ALSO READ: A reference to The Indian Express
Stealing emails constitutes theft and as you would be aware that Delhi Police is taking strong steps against persons stealing information… We have already filed an appropriate complaint with the concerned authorities… We would take appropriate legal steps to ensure that the protection of law available against theft in all its forms is extended to our property, i.e. our servers and data on these servers.” (see full statement below)
Company communications, which form part of the PIL, show that BJP leader Nitin Gadkari, his wife, two sons and daughter spent two nights on an Essar luxury yacht stationed in the waters of the French Riviera between July 7 and July 9, 2013. They were flown to the yacht Sunrays in a helicopter from Nice airport and returned the same way.
Gadkari was not an Union Minister then and had stepped down as BJP president. But an Essar executive, in an email to the yacht captain, made it very clear: “are very important people… see they are comfortable.”
When The Indian Express asked Gadkari about the trip, he said: “I was going to Norway with my family and all air tickets and hotel bills for the holiday were paid by me. I did take a ride on the yacht of the Ruia family and that is because I have known the Ruias for over 25 years. When they learnt I was visiting Europe, they invited me. I see no conflict of interest here since at that time I was neither the BJP president nor a minister or MP. I will not do so now since I am a minister but at that time, where was the problem?”
‘’This trip was a private affair,” Gadkari said, “and I do have individual relations with people independent of my public life. Ruias and I have been neighbours for years in Mumbai and I have not dealt with their cases in any capacity or extended any favours to them. Where is the conflict of interest? Also, it is not as if the Ruias were paying a bill for me. It is their yacht which was lying vacant when we visited it. It is their personal boat, they own it. And the helicopter ride was essential since you can only land on the yacht by helicopter. It was a memorable trip.”
It is alleged in internal Essar communications that then coal minister Sriprakash Jaiswal, Congress leaders Digvijaya Singh and Motilal Vora, then MP Yashbant Narayan Singh Laguri and BJP’s Varun Gandhi referred candidates for jobs in Essar.
A senior company executive, in one of the emails, suggests that 200 slots be earmarked for VIP “referrals” and a separate data bank maintained.
Asked if he had referred people for jobs, Jaiswal told The Indian Express: “I may have recommended a few people to Essar. I used to frequently recommend unemployed youth from my constituency, wherever they asked me to put in a word.”
Digvijaya Singh, who it is alleged made one such “referral”, said: “I do not recollect this case but I do not deny that I used to regularly give references to those who needed assistance.”
Varun Gandhi, when contacted, said: “I cannot remember the name of this gentleman that you are referring to. But in the course of my public life, I do come across well-educated, well-meaning and unemployed youth from my constituency and other places as well. They request me to give a letter of reference for employment and my office gives them letters of recommendation after satisfying their bonafide credentials.”
Laguri was unavailable for comment.
In one email, there is a proposal from a senior Essar executive that the company gift 200 high-end cell phones to top bureaucrats and MPs. Essar executives also arranged cabs for some Delhi-based journalists, in one case for 10 days. The company kept a record of all such requests made and granted.