By Prarthana Mitra
Former liquor baron Vijay Mallya who is wanted in India for bank fraud, stirred up controversy on Wednesday when he claimed to have met Finance Minister Arun Jaitley before fleeing abroad.
The fugitive billionaire who fled in 2016 currently resides in the UK while the Indian government is pushing for an extradition. It was after a hearing on that case that Mallya mentioned to the media assembled outside a Westminster court, of the meeting with Jaitley in the Parliament. The two supposedly met to negotiate a settlement of the loans he had been accused of defaulting, just a day before Mallya left the country for good.
Mallya’s sensational accusation has invited the opposition to raise fingers against the ruling BJP government for their laxity and leniency, or as CPIM’s Sitaram Yechury puts it, enabling “big defaulters to loot public money and scoot.” The Congress didn’t lose time calling top BJP leaders out, even asking Jaitley to resign for failing to inform or alert the law enforcement authorities of Mallya’s intended flight.
Later on Wednesday, Mallya took a stab at quelling the media storm and exonerating the FM, saying, “I happened to meet Mr Jaitley in Parliament and I told him I was leaving for London, that I want to settle with the banks and would he please facilitate these discussions.”
Claims and criticism
The interlocutor himself denied these claims as false, saying that Mallya had misused his access as an MP and “paced” up to Jaitley during the Parliamentary Budget Session in 2016. The Finance Minister had reportedly asked him to make his settlement offer to the bankers and did not accept any papers from him at the time. Although he insists that there had been no formal meeting since 2014, which Mallya also clarifies, Congress leader PL Punia later claimed that he had witnessed an elaborate meeting between the two in the Central Hall of Parliament on March 1, 2016, for 15-20 minutes. He even asked for the CCTV footage, while Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi demanded a probe into senior BJP leaders, echoing Rahul Gandhi’s speech in London last month.
The Congress chief had then mentioned that Mallya’s meeting with several BJP leaders was well-known and documented. On Wednesday, he questioned why Jaitley hadn’t tipped the investigative agencies off if he knew about Mallya’s plans to flee, calling it a “clear-cut case of collusion.” Mallya rejected these claims, saying that nobody in the government had tipped him off about CBI’s warrant and that he had left India at the time for a conference in Geneva.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius.
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