New Delhi: The political battle over fugitive business tycoon Vijay Mallya’s claim of meeting Union Minister Arun Jaitley raged on Thursday with ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) alleging that Mallya’s now defunct Kingfisher Airlines was owned by Congress president Rahul Gandhi “by proxy”.
On Thursday, Gandhi said that Mallya and Jaitley were witnessed by Congress leader PL Punia having a discussion in Parliament just two days before the tycoon’s flight to the UK.
“Congress leader PL Punia witnessed Arun Jaitley’s meeting with Vijay Mallya. The Finance Minister has to explain to the country why he has colluded with a criminal and why was he having a meeting with a criminal, what was discussed? Mallya tells Jaitley that he was going to London and the Finance Minister does not even tell Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) or police. Why not,” Gandhi asked.
Gandhi sought Jaitley’s resignation and a thorough probe into the matter.
Confirming witnessing the meeting between Jaitley and Mallya, Punia said, “I was in the central hall of Parliament House. I saw Jaitley and Mallya standing and talking in the corner. After 5-7 minutes, they sat on the bench and started talking. Mallya had come just to meet Jaitley. It is my challenge. You can look at CCTV footage and see if I am wrong. If I am wrong, I will resign.”
On Tuesday, Mallya had told media in London that he met Jaitley, who was the Finance Minister in 2016, before leaving India.
“I left because I had a scheduled meeting in Geneva. I met the FM before I left, repeated my offer to settle with the banks. That is the truth. I also told the Minister that I was leaving for London,” Mallya said.
But Jaitley denied giving any appointment to Mallya before the tycoon left India.
“My attention has been drawn to a statement made to the media by Vijay Mallya on having met me with an offer of colony. The statement is factually false inasmuch as it 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 misused that privilege of being a Member of Parliament 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 colony’. I told him ‘there was no point talking to me and he must make offers to his bankers’,” Jaitley wrote in a Facebook post.
On its part, BJP on Thursday said Congress chief Gandhi owned Mallya’s Kingfisher Airlines by proxy and there was “18 pages worth of evidence” about their links.
“Papers show that Kingfisher Airlines was not owned by Mallya but by the Gandhi family. That Rahul and his mother Sonia Gandhi used to get free business upgrade in Kingfisher flights is something which is in the public domain,” BJP spokesman Sambit Patra told media.
He said the entire Gandhi family was helping Kingfisher Airlines with a sweet deal.
“I have a bunch of documents related to the loans given by banks to the Airline. There is a series of letters between Reserve Bank of India and State Bank of India. These letters 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 said.
Mallya is the ex-chairman of United Spirits, the largest spirits company in India and continues to serve as chairman of United Breweries Group, an Indian conglomerate with interests including beverage alcohol, aviation infrastructure, real estate and fertiliser.
He left India on March 2, 2016 after saying he wanted to move to Britain to be closer to his children. A group of 17 Indian banks are trying to collect approximately Rs9,000 crore (US$1.3 billion) in loans which Mallya has allegedly routed to gain 100 per cent or a partial stake in about 40 companies across the world.
Several agencies including Income Tax (IT) Department and CBI are investigating Mallya for charges including financial fraud and money laundering.