At the heart of a political storm in India, Lalit Modi on Tuesday admitted his links with Vasundhara Raje and Sushma Swaraj, named a few more political friends, and blamed the controversy on media mogul Rupert Murdoch. Going one step further than what his lawyer had revealed about help from Raje, Modi said the Rajasthan Chief Minister had accompanied his wife for cancer treatment to Portugal in 2012 and 2013.
The Sunday Times, owned by Murdoch, only broke the story about External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj helping him get travel documents to travel to Portugal from the UK, Modi said, because of his involvement in the Champions Twenty20 League.
Murdoch wanted to get out of the broadcasting rights of the loss-making league but couldn’t because there was no exit clause in the contract, Modi said. “He knew I was going to tell about the no-exit clause.”
Holidaying in Montenegro in the Balkans, Modi told Rajdeep Sardesai of India Today TV channel, “My wife was being taken to Portugal by whom, by Mrs Vasundhara Raje. Nobody knows that, I am putting that on record now… My relationship with Vasundhara Raje goes back 30 years. That relationship is known to everybody. She is a close friend of the family and my wife… She openly agreed to be (a witness), but unfortunately by the time the case went to trial, she was already Chief Minister, so she did not come to become a witnes. The statements she gave (are) all on records in the courts.”
The interview followed revelations that Raje had given an undertaking that she would support “any immigration application” Modi made provided her assistance “will not become known to Indian authorities”.
Asked about his relationship with Swaraj, Modi said, “I did ask her (Swaraj) help”, but added that he would have made a similar plea to any other external affairs minister in office.
“Raje and Sushma supported me when my wife was sick… It was a family, a legal, whatever you may call it… we were very close. But the point is not that… I am very close to a lot of politicians, not only Mrs Swaraj.” He repeated Swaraj’s defence, that she had helped him on “humanitarian grounds”.
The TV channel quoted Modi as saying that he was also helped by NCP leaders Sharad Pawar and Praful Patel and Congress leader Rajiv Shukla. Shukla said he had not talked to Modi for three years while Pawar claimed he had tried to convince the former IPL chief to return to India and face investigations.
Swaraj’s husband Swaraj Kaushal has been his attorney for over 20 years, Modi added, and their daughter Bansuri had been his lawyer for over four years. “They don’t charge me for their services. They advice me legally free of cost. We go back a long way. I made the phone call to Sushmaji at a point in time where it was proven in UK courts that everything was done against me by the previous (UPA) government…There is no conflict of interest here.”
Hitting out at the UPA government, particularly former finance minister P Chidambaram, for “colluding” with the UK government to end his stay there, Modi said, “There was secret correspondence done by the UK and Indian government which said that bilateral relations between two countries will be soured if Lalit Modi is given any help. What they forgot to tell everybody is this secret communication is in the RTI document, which showed clearly the connivance of the UK government, so much so that UK courts have recognised it. Did you know that the court penalised the UK government and they have paid me damages?”
Modi said, “The question is who is the private office of India? It was P Chidambaram. Because he couldn’t do it legally, he tried to armtwist and he only did it because I took Shashi Tharoor out. It was political vendetta.”
Asked about his holiday in the famous Ibiza resort three days after the surgery of his wife, Modi said the family decided to celebrate because the “revolutionary treatment” received at the Portugal medical centre had helped his wife, whose liver cancer was in the final stage.
Modi claimed he had done no wrong, always gone by the book and paid all his dues. He began his interview, conducted on the shores of the Adriatic coast, though by saying he lived life “kingsize”.