Did Mallya tell Jaitley? BJP won't say

The BJP on Thursday did not deny that liquor tycoon Vijay Mallya had told finance minister Arun Jaitley he was leaving for London before fleeing the country in March 2016, trying instead to discredit the claim by arguing that a culprit can't be trusted.

By Our Special Correspondent
  • Published 14.09.18
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Union minister Piyush Goyal addresses a press conference at Bharatiya Janata Party headquarters, in New Delhi, on Thursday. (PTI picture)

New Delhi: The BJP on Thursday did not deny that liquor tycoon Vijay Mallya had told finance minister Arun Jaitley he was leaving for London before fleeing the country in March 2016, trying instead to discredit the claim by arguing that a culprit can't be trusted.

"A culprit says a lot of things. He can't be trusted. A person under the glare of law can't be taken for credibility," railway minister Piyush Goyal said.

Mallya had fled the country after his businesses defaulted on bank loans of Rs 9,000 crore. On Wednesday he told journalists that he had met Jaitley before leaving the country and told him he was going to London.

This claim led to the question: if this was true, why didn't the finance minister inform the Enforcement Directorate and the CBI about Mallya's travel plans?

Jaitley, who on Wednesday described Mallya's claim of a meeting between the two as "factually false" and said it was a "one-sentence exchange" that was forced on him, has not yet expressly denied that the liquor baron had told him he was leaving for London.

Asked about the claim on Thursday, Goyal too stopped short of a denial.

Another point that has put a question mark on the government's role in Mallya's escape is the watering down of the CBI's lookout notice against the tycoon.

Asked who had watered down the notice from "block" to "inform" that allowed the liquor tycoon to flee, Goyal again avoided a direct reply. "Our government gives full independence to investigating agencies. It's not the Congress period when the CBI used to be a caged parrot," he said.

Responding to the same question raised by BJP MP Subramanian Swamy, Goyal said: "It doesn't have any basis."

Swamy had tweeted during the day: "We have now two undeniable facts on the Mallya escape issue: 1. Look Out Notice was diluted on Oct 24, 2015 from "Block" to "Report" departure enabling Mallya to depart with 54 checked luggage items. 2. Mallya told FM in Central Hall of Parliament that he was leaving for London."

Talking to journalists, Swamy demanded that it should be made public on whose instructions the lookout notice was diluted.

Avoiding these questions, the BJP on Thursday alleged that the Congress and the Nehru-Gandhi family had a deep bonding with the absconding tycoon and had facilitated bank loans for him.

Ahead of his media address, Goyal showed a video in which former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was heard talking about the government's intention to help Mallya's debt-stressed Kingfisher Airlines. This was cited as proof of the Congress's association with Mallya.

"Rahul Gandhi should answer what were the relations between his family and Mallya. Why did the UPA government bail out Mallya?" Goyal asked.

The minister claimed the Modi government was acting against loan defaulters like no other government.

"This (Mallya's claim of meeting Jaitley before leaving the country) comes after the visit of Rahul Gandhi to London. Are Vijay Mallya and Rahul Gandhi working in tandem? Is the Congress Party keen to save Vijay Mallya who benefited from the bank facilities during UPA Government?" law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad tweeted.

BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra said Congress president Rahul Gandhi appeared to own the now-defunct Kingfisher Airlines by proxy. "Rahul Gandhi and his mother Sonia Gandhi used to get free business upgrade (in Kingfisher flights)," Patra said.