Former Kingfisher Airlines chairman and embattled businessman Vijay Mallya on Wednesday created a political storm when he claimed he had met the finance minister before leaving India.
Reporters asked the 62-year-old, who appeared before the Westminster Magistrates’ Court in London in the case regarding his extradition to India, whether he was “tipped off” to leave the country. “I left because I had a scheduled meeting in Geneva. I met the finance minister before I left, repeated my offer to settle with the banks. That is the truth,” he responded, without naming the minister.
India has requested Mallya’s extradition from the United Kingdom so he can face trial on fraud and money laundering charges.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley did not waste time in responding to Mallya’s claim. He said Mallya’s “the statement is factually false in as much as it does not reflect truth”.
In a Facebook post, Jaitley said that Mallya had “misused” his privilege of being a member of the Rajya Sabha and “paced to catch up” with him while he was walking out of the Rajya Sabha.
“I had never given him an appointment, never at my office and never at my residence. Nor have I ever offered to meet him,” Jaitley told ANI.
Apart from the encounter that Jaitley described in his Facebook post, the finance minister said: “There is no question of my having ever met him or spoken to him. I even did not receive any paper from him at that time. And therefore, to convey an impression that he met me with an offer of settlement is factually not correct.”
After the hearing in the Westminster Magistrates’ Court, reporters asked Mallya for details of his meeting with Jaitley. The businessman then said: “I’m afraid this is a controversy created by my friends in the media. I was standing here during lunch and I happened to answer a question on the circumstances under which I flew out. I said that I happened to meet Mr Jaitley in Parliament, and I told him that I was leaving for London, and that I want to settle with the banks.”
“I did not have any formal meetings scheduled with him. I met him often enough in Parliament, in the House and in central hall,” Mallya said. “I don’t understand what this controversy is all about.”
On being asked whether he had met any other BJP leaders, Mallya said: “Over a period of time, I have met many colleagues in Parliament and expressed to them my desire to settle with the banks. I don’t believe I owe you any further details.”
“I can confirm to you that nobody tipped me off. There was no need to run and the allegations are media-created allegations,” he also said.
Opposition lashes out
The Congress was not convinced by Jaitley’s response.
Before Mallya’s clarification came in, party spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi said the country wants to know what transpired during the meetings between Mallya and Jaitley.
“The government should now explain how and why he was allowed to leave and what transpired at those meetings. The nation wants to know,” he said, adding that the government was fully complicit in the “flight” of people like Mallya and others from the country.
On Jaitley’s response to Mallya’s remarks, Singhvi was quoted by ANI as saying: “Phrase used by Mallya today is that ‘he met the finance minister’. But ‘met the finance minister’ doesn’t suggest a passing, casual, walking meeting inside the House of Rajya Sabha. I think a more categorical and detailed response must be given. The question remains that how could he have left after everyone knew of debts and NPAs.”
Congress leader Anand Sharma said: “Vijay Mallya has run away after looting money from banks. The government had this information. So when the finance minister gave statements in Parliament on the Vijay Mallya issue, he should have mentioned this meeting with Mallya. Only the finance minister can tell why he didn’t tell (anyone) about it.”
Party chief Rahul Gandhi said Prime Minister Narendra Modi should “immediately order an independent probe”, given the “extremely serious allegations” Mallya made in London. “Arun Jaitley should step down as finance minister while this probe is underway.
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.
— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) September 12, 2018
Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal also criticised the government over this issue.
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.
— Arvind Kejriwal (@ArvindKejriwal) September 12, 2018
Former BJP leader Yashwant Sinha said the party “must come clean on its relations with Vijay Mallya”.
Not only the finance minister, the entire BJP must come clean on its relations with Vijay Mallya. — Yashwant Sinha (@YashwantSinha) September 12, 2018
Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Sitaram Yechury suggested that there were “other facts” that were being hidden now.
As with the Rafale scam and Choksi scam, this latest revelation by Mallya puts Modi govt in the dock. It is not the finance minister alone, we cannot be sure what other facts are being hidden even now. #Mallya #Modi #Scams
— Sitaram Yechury (@SitaramYechury) September 12, 2018
“It’s a fact that all of us had known earlier. Whatever denials the government may issue, it confirms that all those who looted public money by taking loans from banks and absconded, not one of them happened to leave the country without knowledge of the government,” ANI quoted Yechury as saying. The Congress also had its own unique way of hitting out at the government on Twitter.
Tough question! We’re opting for an audience poll. Rs 9000 crore at stake! pic.twitter.com/AlyNZ6L6dB — Congress (@INCIndia) September 12, 2018
Other Congress leaders also posted tweets against the government.
After Mallya reveals his ‘consultation meetings’ before his smooth escape, with Fiscal Mismanagement Blog Minister Sh Jaitley – one thing is clear – BJP is running “tour travels & immigration” agency for “loot scoot & settle abroad” brigade. https://t.co/n39NfDw0rS
— Randeep Singh Surjewala (@rssurjewala) September 12, 2018
Dear Mr @arunjaitley : Perhaps it is time to resign! “ Met Finance Minister To “Settle Matters” Before Leaving: Vijay Mallya https://t.co/NtbsKnbNtY via @ndtv — Sanjay Jha (@JhaSanjay) September 12, 2018
Now that it is confirmed that Mallya and Jaitley ji met to ‘try and settle issues’ before Mallya escaped the clutches of law, does the FM have any moral authority to continue in his post? #SuitBootSarkar
— Priyanka Chaturvedi (@priyankac19) September 12, 2018
Why did @arunjaitley not share a Facebook post on his meeting with Vijay Mallya who had come to “settle matters” before he absconded to the UK? Why do we need to hear this from a fugitive? Why is the Modi govt hiding key information from citizens? This is a very serious matter! — Salman Anees Soz (@SalmanSoz) September 12, 2018
Mehul Chowksi is referred as “Bhai” by our Hon’ble PM #Modiji while FIRs r pending against him; Now Mallya reveals he met Blog Minister Sh Jaitley before he fled-does the country need anymore proof that #BJP runs a personalized “Conceirge Service” for “Loot & Scoot” brigade !!
— Jaiveer Shergill (@JaiveerShergill) September 12, 2018
BJP comes to Jaitley’s defence Leaders of the saffron party came to Jaitley’s defence on Twitter and re-shared the finance minister’s statement on the controversy.
Both Vijay Mallya and @INCIndia stand exposed. It is pity that the Congress is depending on the falsehood of a fugitive. pic.twitter.com/ij8Z51kDGf — Prakash Javadekar (@PrakashJavdekar) September 12, 2018
FM @arunjaitley ji dispels the false assertion regarding Vijay Mallya.
Mallya’s statement does not reflect the truth, and there is no question of him being given any appointment by the FM.https://t.co/VAe2dKLEaZ — Rajyavardhan Rathore (@Ra_THORe) September 12, 2018
People who are going gaga over Vijay Mallya’s false claims are the same people who believed in ‘phone banking’ i.e. getting loans arranged for their friends and cronies through phone calls bypassing all systems of due diligence. https://t.co/IkN1PYGzSp — Dharmendra Pradhan (@dpradhanbjp) September 12, 2018
Mallya’s claims about a meeting with FM Shri @arunjaitley have been nailed by FM as lies. Mallya wrote letters to @PChidambaram_IN & former PM Dr.Singh about his meetings with them & thanked help in getting (bad) loans.UPA facilitated fraud; NDA nailed it. https://t.co/b4DWmmNSSC
— GVL Narasimha Rao (@GVLNRAO) September 12, 2018
“The statement (Vijay Mallya’s) is factually false in as much 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.” – Read Finanance Minister Arun Jaitley’s full statement. https://t.co/XYdHrAsy0i — Amit Malviya (@amitmalviya) September 12, 2018
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has yet to comment on the Mallya-Jaitley controversy.
With inputs from PTI