Congress MP PL Punia claimed on Thursday that he had seen Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and businessman Vijay Mallya meet in the Central Hall of the Parliament during the Budget Session of 2016 and that their meeting had lasted around 15 to 20 minutes.
“On March 1, 2016, when I was in Central Hall of Parliament, I witnessed Arun Jaitley and Vijay Mallya talking discretely,” Punia claimed. “On March 3, we heard from media that he fled the country on March 2.”
Mallya, who is accused of fleeing to London after defrauding Indian banks of over Rs 9,000 crore, was a member of the Rajya Sabha then. He claimed on Wednesday that he had met Jaitley before leaving India and had offered to reach a settlement with banks. Jaitley said Mallya had indeed walked up to him “on one occasion” as he was leaving the House, but that he had not allowed him to proceed with the conversation.
Mallya is currently in the middle of an extradition trial in the United Kingdom. A verdict is expected in December.
On Thursday, Congress President Rahul Gandhi accused Jaitley of “colluding with a criminal” in helping him “run away” from the country. He claimed there were only two possibilities – either Jaitley helped Mallya escape of his own accord, or did so on instructions from Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Gandhi accused Jaitley of lying and asked him to clarify which of these was true.
Gandhi said it was an “open-and-shut case” and that Jaitley should resign from his post. The logistics of Mallya’s running away from India were discussed during the “extended meeting”, he claimed, adding that Jaitley had allowed a criminal “free passage” out of the country. He asked why Jaitley did not inform the Central Bureau of Investigation, the Enforcement Directorate or the police about the conversation.
Gandhi had on Wednesday urged Modi to order an independent investigation into the matter.
In his response to Mallya’s claim in a Facebook post, Jaitley had said: “Having been fully briefed about his earlier ‘bluff offers’, without allowing him to proceed with the conversation, I curtly told him there was no point talking to me and he must make offers to his bankers. I did not even receive the papers that he was holding in his hand.”
Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala asked the Bharatiya Janata Party and Modi why Jaitley met had Mallya and whether it was “legally, ethically and morally correct” for Jaitley to “ hold such discussions with an economic offender”.
“Admittedly, Vijay Mallya informed Arun Jaitley that he was ‘leaving for London’,” Surjewala said in a statement. “Despite knowing about Mallya’s intent of escape of India, why did [Arun Jaitley] not tell CBI/ED/SFIO/External Affairs Ministry to detail and arrest Vijay Mallya? Was he being tipped to escape?”
Surjewala also asked why no action was taken against Mallya even though the Central Bureau of Investigation had filed a First Information Report in July 2015. “Who asked CBI to change its ‘Look Out Notice’ dated 16th October, 2015 to ‘Detain Vijay Mallya’ into a mere ‘Inform Notice’ on 23rd November, 2015?” he asked.