The raging controversy over External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s links to former IPL chief Lalit Modi took a new direction Tuesday with the release of documents that purportedly show Rajasthan CM Vasundhara Raje secretly supporting his bid to obtain UK immigration papers in 2011.
Documents released by a PR firm, acting on behalf of Modi’s lawyer Mehmood Abdi, suggest that Raje, who was then the state opposition leader, specified that she supported “any immigration application that Lalit Modi makes, but do so on the strict condition that my assistance will not become known to the Indian authorities”.
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“This witness statement is provided on the strict understanding that its contents and the identity of its maker are treated confidentially and that it is used only for the purposes stated in it,” stated the unsigned three-page note, dated August 18, 2011.
It also contains a lengthy description of Raje’s identity, credentials and career, starting with the fact that her father, the last Maharaja of Gwalior, George Jivajirao Scindia, was “a prominent Indian politician, having been elected to the Lok Sabha in 1962 as a member of the Indian National Congress”.
Reacting to the release of the documents, Raje said in Jaipur: “Of course, I know the (Modi) family. I have always known them… (But) I do not know what documents they are talking about,” she said.
The documents released by Abdi’s team also contain purported statements from the lawyer himself and Robert Nicholls, founding partner of a South Africa-based security firm contracted by IPL, in support of Modi’s application to the UK Border Agency to allow him to remain in the UK as the representative of an overseas business — Indofil Industries Ltd.
Modi moved to London in 2010 after the Enforcement Directorate (ED) launched a number of investigations against him, including on charges of alleged money-laundering involving crores of rupees.
He subsequently failed to appear before the ED, despite repeated summons, prompting the agency to approach the Ministry of External Affairs seeking the withdrawal of his passport. Modi’s passport was revoked by the Regional Passport Officer in Mumbai on March 3, 2011 — it was restored by the Delhi High Court on August 27, 2014.
Swaraj had admitted on Sunday that she had helped Modi obtain British travel papers last August on “humanitarian grounds” so that he could be with his wife who was undergoing treatment for cancer in Portugal.
The main Opposition party, the Congress, had demanded the resignation of Swaraj for helping Modi and sought an explanation from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, claiming that the minister wouldn’t have acted without his “express approval”.
The controversy rose on Sunday after the UK-based Sunday Times reported that “leaked correspondence” between influential Labour MP Keith Vaz and head of UK Visas and Immigration Sarah Rapson show that Swaraj helped facilitate travel documents for Modi.
The newspaper reported that on July 31, Vaz wrote to Rapson, questioning the initial decision to deny Modi’s plea for travel papers. According to the paper, Vaz wrote: “The foreign minister of India (Sushma Swaraj) has spoken to me, making it very clear that the Indian government have no objection to the travel document being granted. Mrs Swaraj has also spoken to Sir James Bevan who, even though he was on leave, said he would speak to the relevant person in the Home Office. Frankly, everyone has been involved in this apart from Ban Ki-moon (the UN secretary-general).”
Bevan is the British High Commissioner to India. Less than 24 hours later, says the paper, Modi was granted his travel documents.