Open and shut case of collusion: Rahul

Congress president Rahul Gandhi on Thursday described as an "open-and-shut case of criminal collusion" finance minister Arun Jaitley's failure to alert law-enforcing agencies despite Vijay Mallya categorically telling him he was going to London a day before he fled India.

By Our Special Correspondent
  • Published 14.09.18
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Rahul Gandhi at the news conference on Thursday. Picture by Prem Singh

New Delhi: Congress president Rahul Gandhi on Thursday described as an "open-and-shut case of criminal collusion" finance minister Arun Jaitley's failure to alert law-enforcing agencies despite Vijay Mallya categorically telling him he was going to London a day before he fled India.

Addressing a news conference in the afternoon, Rahul said: "It is a case of collusion. The finance minister colluded with a criminal who was planning to abscond. Jaitley has accepted publicly that the criminal, the thief told him he was going to London. Straightforward collusion with a criminal and Jaitley must step down."

(The explicit reference to the London trip was made by Mallya while clarifying his statement earlier on Wednesday. Jaitley is yet to respond to Mallya's second statement.)

The Congress chief accused the government of giving "free passage" to Mallya, whose businesses defaulted on bank loans of Rs 9,000 crore.

"Jaitley said yesterday that Mallya approached him informally. He writes long blogs but this meeting was never mentioned. When Mallya told him he was going to London, did the finance minister inform the CBI, ED or police? This is an open-and-shut case - the finance minister colluded in the criminal running away of Mallya," Rahul said.

He pointed out that a lookout notice to detain Mallya was "converted" into a lookout notice to inform. "Did that happen magically? Who changed the notice? Only those who control the CBI can do this. Jaitley has to reveal if he did this on his own or on orders from the higher authority," the Congress leader said.

To a question whether he was pointing fingers at Prime Minister Narendra Modi by referring to a "higher authority", Rahul said: " Aur kya (What else)? The Prime Minister decides everything."

The Congress leader repeatedly accused Jaitley of lying.

Arun Jaitley, Narendra Modi

Demonstrating its intent to corner the government over Mallya's revelation - as such controversies, along with the Rafale deal tweak, could deepen the perception about corruption - the Congress held a second media briefing in the evening where party communications chief Randeep Surjewala raised some uncomfortable questions.

"Seventeen banks led by SBI were advised to move the Supreme Court on February 28, 2016, within 24 hours to get Mallya's passport suspended, otherwise he would escape. But the banks, already in litigation for debt recovery, went to the Supreme Court only on March 5, three days after Mallya fled. Why this delay? Banks come under whose department? The FIR was filed against Mallya on July 29, 2015. Why was he not arrested, why was his passport not suspended?"

Surjewala claimed that Mallya's business partner Diageo had made several transactions in February 2016 and around Rs 18,000 crore had been paid to various companies and foreign banks, including Standard Chartered. "What was the finance minister doing when these transactions happened? Why couldn't Indian banks get back their Rs 9,000 crore that Mallya owed them?"

Wondering how Mallya left the country "with 36 suitcases" when all the authorities and the government were in full knowledge of the cases, Surjewala said: "Last-seen evidence is an important principle in criminal jurisprudence. Why is it so that (fugitive diamantaire) Nirav Modi is last seen in public with the Prime Minister and Mallya with the finance minister? (Diamantaire) Mehul (Choksi) bhai is seen at the Prime Minister's official residence. What else can be the conclusion except that the government facilitated their escape?"

Asked about the BJP charge that loans had been given to Mallya on soft terms during the UPA regime, Surjewala said: "Since when did banks giving loans become a crime? Default and refusal to pay back is a crime. The government should disclose when Mallya defaulted. It should also disclose how many loans given by the UPA were renewed and restructured. They should tell us how many loans given in the NDA regime turned NPA (non-performing assets)."

Surjewala rubbished the BJP's allegation that Rahul had influenced Mallya during the Congress chief's recent visit to London.

"How many times did Modi go to London? All the ministers, including Jaitley, have gone to London during this period. Did they go there to meet Mallya? Have we forgotten it is BJP chief minister Vasundhara Raje who helped fugitive (cricket czar) Lalit Modi in obtaining travel documents by giving an affidavit and telling the British authorities not to reveal the same to India?" Surjewala said.