Liquor baron Vijay Mallya who somehow finds a way to stay in news caused a storm on Wednesday afternoon when he told the reporters before appearing in Westminster Magistrates’ Court that he had met the Finance Minister and had offered to settle the issue with the banks before leaving the country. Even though Mallya did not mention any name, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Arun Jaitley was the finance minister in 2016 when the 62-year-old former Kingfisher boss had left the country, which has led to a fresh controversy.
Mallya’s statement has caused a political turmoil at home with Congress, Aam Aadmi Party and other opposition parties taking this as an opportunity to hit out at BJP and Jaitley even as the latter rubbished the claims by saying that he never gave an appointment to the fugitive liquor baron since 2014.
Mallya’s controversial statement
Mallya who was supposed to appear before the Westminster Magistrates’ Court in a case regarding his extradition to India to face the trial on fraud and money laundering charges, was asked by reporters if he was “tipped off” to leave the country. In response, Mallya said that he left because he had a scheduled meeting in Geneva but met the finance minister before doing so and repeated his offer to settle with the banks.
“I left India because I had a scheduled meeting in Geneva. Before leaving I met the finance minister and offered to settle (the issue with the banks)”, Mallya said, without naming the minister.
“I have said before that I am a political football. There is nothing that I can do about it. My conscience is clear and (I) put almost Rs 15,000 crore worth of assets on the table of the Karnataka High Court,” he added. He said the media should question the banks why they are not supporting him in his efforts to repay.
Arun Jaitley’s rebuttal
Responding to the statement, Jaitley said he never gave Mallya an appointment since 2014 but the fugitive liquor baron misused his position as Rajya Sabha MP to accost him in Parliament. In a Facebook blog, Jaitley said Mallya’s statement was “factually false” and “does not reflect truth”. “Since 2014, I have never given him any appointment to meet me and the question of his having met me does not arise,” he wrote.
“He misused that privilege on one occasion while I was walking out of the House to go to my room. He paced up to catch up with me and while walking uttered a sentence that ‘I am making an offer of settlement’. Having been fully briefed about his earlier ‘bluff offers’, without allowing him to proceed with the conversation, I curtly told him ‘there was no point talking to me and he must make offers to his bankers’,” Jaitley said.
How BJP reacted
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokesperson, Sambit Patra while addressing a press conference on Thursday said that Rahul Gandhi has gone on back-foot over Kingfisher Airlines. He said that sometimes it seems the Airlines wasn’t owned by Mallya but by Gandhi family in proxy. “Benefits that Gandhi family got out of Kingfisher Airlines via business class upgradation, free tickets etc is in public domain,” Patra said.
Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan also slammed Mallya for spreading lies and said the former Kingfisher boss took advantage of Jaitley’s presence in Parliament corridor. “He (Mallya)had taken undue advantage of his (FM)presence in Parliament corridor. It’s a lie&violation of decorum. Is prakar ke avishvasniya vyakti ke baare mein aur unki tippani pe jo log bharosa karte hain, unki dosti pata chalti hai:,” Pradhan said.
Another senior BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad claimed that Mallya’s statement came after Rahul Gandhi’s London visit and asked if the two are working in tandem. “Deliberate accosting by Mallya in corridors of Parliament&Jaitley rebuffing him to talk to banks for repayment of loans in just half sentence is sought to be made an issue by Congress. It comes after Rahul Gandhi’s visit to London.Are Mallya&R Gandhi working in tandem?” he said.
Congress demands probe
Congress president Rahul Gandhi demanded an immediate probe into the “extremely serious” allegations made by the fugitive liquor baron. “Given Vijay Mallya’s extremely serious allegations in London today, the PM should immediately order an independent probe into the matter. Arun Jaitley should step down as Finance Minister while this probe is underway,” Gandhi tweeted.
On Thursday, Rahul stepped up his attack and accused the finance minister of colluding with a “criminal” and not informing the probe agencies, despite having information about the liquor baron’s plan to leave the country.
“Why did Jaitley allow Mallya to escape, or was it an order from the prime minister? This is a clear-cut case of collusion. There is some deal between them. Finance Minister Jaitley must resign and this should be investigated,” he said at a press conference.
Meanwhile, senior Congress leader PL Punia claimed that he had seen Jaitley and Mallya talking “discretely” on March 1, 2016, when he was in the Central Hall of Parliament.
“On March 3, we heard from the media that he (Mallya) fled the country on March 2. I have clearly stated about this in each of my interview with the media. There are CCTV cameras, we can all see that for proof. If I am wrong, I will resign from politics,” Punia said.
What AAP and other opposition parties had to say
AAP chief and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal described Mallya’s claims “absolutely shocking” and asked why did the finance minister hide this information till now? “PM Modi meets Neerav Modi before he flees the country. FM meets Vijay Mallya before he flees India. What transpired in these meetings? People want to know (sic),” Kejriwal said in a tweet.
On Thursday, AAP leader Dilip K Pandey raised questions over the alleged meeting between Mallya and Jaitley. Pandey asked Jaitley to write an apology to the nation and also demanded his resignation over the matter.
CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury said Mallya’s escape reconfirmed how Modi government “enables big defaulters to loot public money and scoot”. “The fundamental point is how he got away despite ‘lookout notices’?” Yechury tweeted while mocking Prime Minister Narendra Modi by tagging a picture of him performing yoga by resting on a stone and facing the sky.
RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav said the entire NDA government was “hand in glove” with scamsters and absconders. “They hatched a plot to loot hundreds of thousands of crores. PM and FM must respond on this,” Yadav said in a tweet.