Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar on Monday dismissed corruption allegations levelled by former Mumbai Police chief Param Bir Singh against Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh, ANI reported. Pawar claimed that Deshmukh was hospitalised after testing positive for coronavirus during the period that Singh mentions in his accusations.

“If you see the former commissioner’s letter, he mentions that in mid-February he was informed by certain officers that they got such and such instructions from home minister,” Pawar said. “From February 6 to February 16, Deshmukh was admitted in hospital because of corona[virus].”

Responding to reporters’ questions on the Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party’s demand for removing Deshmukh, Pawar said that they hold no basis and repeated his claim about Maharashtra home minister’s hospitalisation, ANI reported.

Pawar added that Singh’s allegations were “vague” and were made to divert the attention from the Ambani bomb scare case, NDTV reported. “The important issue is the Ambani bomb scare case,” he said. “After the arrests made by the [Maharashtra] anti-terror squad, it is now clear who killed [Mansukh] Hiren. During the investigation, it will be revealed why did these two kill Hiren [and] on whose behalf.”

However during the presser, reporters got Pawar into a tangle after pointing out that Bharatiya Janata Party Information Technology Cell chief had tweeted a video that shows Deshmukh in a press conference during the period mentioned by the NCP chief.

“Sharad Pawar claims Anil Deshmukh was in hospital from 5-15 Feb and in quarantine from 16-27 Feb,” Malviya tweeted. “But Anil Deshmukh was holding a press conference on 15 Feb. How lies fall flat!”

As reporters questioned Pawar on Malviya’s tweet, he first showed a piece of paper which apparently was a document showing proof of Deshmukh’s hospitalisation. However, as the reporters kept insisting on the date of the video, Pawar first said that it was a press conference held via video conferencing. He then went on to insist that the bomb scare was a larger matter and the reporters were wrong to harp on Deshmukh.

Former Maharashtra Chief Minister and BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis, meanwhile, said that it seems Pawar was not briefed properly about Singh’s letter.

“In this letter only, the SMS evidence shows that the meeting date was mentioned as end of February,” Fadnavis tweeted. “Now who is diverting issue?”

In a letter to Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray on Saturday, Singh had claimed that Deshmukh was extorting money from bars, restaurants and hookah parlours in the city. The former police chief wrote that suspended Crime Branch officer Sachin Vaze told him that the minister had asked him to collect Rs 100 crore every month through illegal channels. He levelled the allegations in a letter to Thackeray, days after being removed from his post.

On Saturday, the Maharashtra ATS claimed that it had solved the Hiren death case, a day after it arrested two men, even as the case was transferred by Union home ministry to the National Investigation Agency.

Pawar’s assertion on Deshmukh on Monday came a day after he called the allegations “serious” and said it was the prerogative of Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray to take appropriate action in the case. The NCP chief and other leaders of the Maharashtra government alliance are likely to take a decision on Deshmukh in a meeting on Monday.

Deshmukh himself released a statement on Sunday as a counter to Singh’s allegations. He suggested that Singh’s failure to lodge a First Information Report on the matter showed that the charges were made as an “afterthought”.