Congress president Rahul Gandhi on Saturday alleged that it was the “blue-eyed boy” of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the CBI who had “weakened” the lookout circular issued by the investigative agency against businessman Vijay Mallya three years ago. The CBI denied the charge as “baseless”.
“CBI Jt. Director, A K Sharma, weakened Mallya’s “Look Out” notice, allowing Mallya to escape. Mr Sharma, a Gujarat cadre officer, is the PM’s blue-eyed-boy in the CBI. The same officer was in charge of Nirav Modi & Mehul Choksi’s escape plans. Ooops…investigation!” Rahul tweeted.
Hours later, the CBI issued a statement arguing the lookout circular was changed in 2015 because there was no “sufficient grounds to detain and arrest” Mallya then.
“Some baseless allegations have been made by certain individuals against a senior officer of CBI… As has been stated a number of times earlier, the decision to change the LOC against Vijay Mallya was taken because at the time there was not sufficient grounds for CBI to detain and arrest him. The decision was taken at the appropriate level as a part of process and not individually by the officer as alleged,” the CBI said.
As for Modi and Choksi, the CBI said it received complaint against them from Punjab National Bank “almost a month after they had left the country”.
“Therefore the question of any CBI officer having any hand in their fleeing the country does not arise. Prompt action was taken by CBI in the case immediately after the complaint was received from the bank,” it said.
The Congress questioned the CBI argument that the LOC was downgraded because there was not enough ground to detain Mallya then. Congress communication department head Randeep Surjewala said the CBI had registered an FIR against Mallya “for loan default and diversion of funds” way back in July 2015 and raided him two months later in October.
He claimed the CBI had seized several documents during those raids. “On October 16, 2015, the CBI issued a lookout notice to detain Mallya based on that overwhelming material. On November 23, 2015, the CBI quietly changed this ‘lookout notice’ to detain Mallya into a mere ‘inform notice’. Who nudged the CBI to change the lookout notice to detain Mallya in view of the overwhelming evidence that was stated in FIR and recovered by the CBI in the raids…. Is it not correct that the LOC to detain Mallya was based on the material recovered by CBI in the raids…” he asked.
Surjewala said that State Bank of India had issued a notice of wilful default against Mallya in August 2014 and United Bank of India declared him wilful defaulter in September 2014. “In May 2015, Ministry of Corporate Affairs ordered a full investigation by Serious Frauds Investigation Office (SFIO) into the affairs of Mallya and Kingfisher Airlines… How can the CBI, then, today turn back and say that there was insufficient material to arrest a bank declared ‘Wilful Defaulter’ and to change the ‘lookout notice’ from ‘detain’ to ‘inform’?” he said.