THE POLITICAL war of words over Vijay Mallya’s claim that he “had met the Finance Minister” before leaving India in 2016 escalated Thursday with Congress chief Rahul Gandhi claiming that the Government “colluded” with the businessman and Union Minister Piyush Goyal accusing the Opposition party of “lying” to cover up its “own sins” in the case.
On Wednesday, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had described Mallya’s claim as “factually false” and said that the businessman had only briefly caught up with him in Parliament. Mallya himself downplayed his claim later to say there was “no formal meeting”.
However, after demanding Jaitley’s resignation, the Congress ratcheted up its attack with Rahul Gandhi addressing a press conference along with his party’s Rajya Sabha MP P L Punia, who claimed to have witnessed Mallya meeting with Jaitley in Parliament on March 1, 2016, the day before the fugitive businessman left for the UK.
“The Finance Minister has colluded in a criminal running away from the country. The criminal had told him that I am going to run away to London. It has been accepted publicly that he has been told by a criminal that he is going to run away and the Finance Minister has not done anything, has not informed the CBI, and has not informed the ED,” Gandhi said.
Referring to Punia’s claim, Gandhi said it was “a 15-20 minutes meeting, sit-down meeting” during which the “logistics of Mallya leaving the country were discussed”.
Punia, meanwhile, sought a scrutiny of CCTV tapes to prove his claim. “Jaitley and Mallya (were) talking to each other intimately standing at a corner of Central Hall… After 5-7 minutes, they sat down and continued talking. Mallya came to Parliament during that session (Budget) only on March 1. He had come to meet Jaitley and they met… It was not a brief meeting… CCTV cameras are installed there. If the CCTV footage of March 1 is checked, it will become clear. After that, either he can leave politics or I will,” the MP claimed.\
Gandhi, meanwhile, wanted to know why the Look Out Circular (LoC) notice issued by the CBI against Mallya was downgraded from “detain” on arrival to “report”.
Responding to the Congress allegations, senior BJP leader and Union Minister Piyush Goyal claimed that the previous Congress-led UPA government had flouted rules and relaxed norms to favour Kingfisher Airlines.
Goyal said the UPA started relaxing norms to favour Kingfisher Airlines in 2010 and alleged that the Congress party and its leaders, including then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, were “involved in a conspiracy to bail out Kingfisher Airlines”. Goyal said that loans were extended to the airlines, “again and again”.
According to Goyal, Mallya wrote a letter to Manmohan Singh in October 2011 to seek more help for the airlines. “After that, banks were forced to approach RBI to give relaxation to Kingfisher Airlines… This shows the propensity with which they (Congress) can lie to cover up their sins,” Goyal said.
Referring to Punia’s claim, Goyal claimed that Punia appeared to be “speaking under some pressure”. “There is the partnership of Rahul Gandhi and Vijay Mallya to create lies. They are repeating their lies,” Goyal said, while demanding that “Rahul Gandhi should clarify the links of his family” and the UPA government with Kingfisher Airlines.
On Mallya’s meeting with Jaitley inside Parliament, Goyal said, “It was one-way traffic. He was trying to talk to somebody in that passage. By that logic…today, I was watching on Twitter, a lot of people have put out photographs where Rahul Gandhi is seen in the same frame as Arun Jaitley. I don’t think we can run away from Rahul Gandhi because he is a person who is accused of a fraud of huge amounts and the High Court has also dismissed his pleas, including his plea to gag the press. The so-called votaries of freedom of press were trying to gag the press in their own case,” Goyal said.
“The public will get Rahul Gandhi to resign from the post of Congress president, politics and Lok Sabha membership,” Goyal said.
Key spokespersons of both parties, too, engaged in a war of words over the issue with BJP’s Sambit Patra alleging that the UPA government had given a “sweet deal” to favour Kingfisher Airlines. He suggested that the airline was perhaps owned by the Gandhi family.
Patra claimed that Rahul Gandhi was on the backfoot in the case of Kingfisher and Mallya because the “entire Gandhi family travelled on the airline and their travel was upgraded to business class for free”.
“There is a series of letters between the RBI and the SBI which show us how the previous dispensation under Sonia Gandhi was biased, partial and kept all norms and regulations at bay to give a sweet deal to Kingfisher Airlines,” Patra alleged.
Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala demanded answers from the Government to several questions.
“Why was no action taken against Mallya for the Rs 9,000-crore bank fraud despite registration of an FIR by the CBI on July 29, 2015, for financial irregularities and diversion of funds? Who asked CBI to change its Look Out Notice dated October 16, 2015, to detain Vijay Mallya to a mere Inform notice on November 23, 2015?” he said.
“The consortium of 17 banks led by SBI had moved the Debt Recovery Tribunal for action against Mallya on February 28, 2016. They were advised to move the Supreme Court within 24 hours so that Mallya does not escape from India. Who directed the banks to not act and delay filing of the case in the Supreme Court until March 5 2016, so that Mallya can escape on March 2, 2016?” he asked.
Mallya is facing extradition proceedings in a London court on charges of fraud and money laundering amounting to Rs 9,000 crore. The verdict is expected on December 10.