New Delhi: Even as Finance Minister Arun Jaitley denied having discussed anything serious when fugitive liquor baron Vijay Mallya 'approached' him in Parliament just before he fled to the United Kingdom in 2016, Opposition parties stepped up pressure on the Modi government on Thursday seeking answers to many questions, such as who changed the Lookout Notice, and demanded Jaitley's resignation.
Addressing the media, Congress President Rahul Gandhi demanded Jaitely's resignation, accusing him of colluding with fugitive businessman Vijay Mallya "and giving him a free passage" to flee the country.
"There is a clear-cut collusion. He (Jaitley) should have confessed (about the meeting) and he should resign," said Gandhi.
Vijay Mallya, head of the UB group and owner of the now defunked Kingfisher Airlines, is facing charges of bank fraud and money laundering amounting to Rs 9,000 crore.On Wednesday, Mallya said he had met and informed Finance Minister Arun Jaitley before “leaving for London” in 2016.
“I happened to meet Jaitley in Parliament and told him that I am leaving for London… I did not have any formal meetings scheduled with him,” Mallya said. He also said that he had met Jaitley several times and expressed his willingness to settle the bank loans, as quoted by Free Press Journal.
Picking holes in Jaitley's plea that the meeting with Mallya was not 'formal', senior COngress leade and MP, P L Punia, claimed at a press conference having an eyewitness account of the meeting between Jaitley and Mallya in the Central Hall of Parliament before the businessman fled the country on March 2, 2016.
CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury, who was then a Rajya Sabha MP, also tweeted: "The fundamental point is how he got away despite “lookout notices”?
Yechury told ANI that "It's a fact that all of us had known earlier. Whatever denials government may issue, it confirms that all those who looted public money by taking loans from banks & absconded, not one of them happened to leave the country without knowledge of the government."
Punia claimed the meeting between Jaitley and Mallya lasted 15-20 minutes and alleged that Mallya took Jaitley's permission after holding consultations with him about his planned flight abroad.
"The meeting happened on March 1, 2016, a day after the Union budget was presented. In the Central Hall, initially Mallya and Jaitley were standing and were talking intently. Then they moved to the benches in the Central Hall and were seated and talking," said Punia.
"Later, on March 3 morning, news appeared that Mallya left the country on March 2. My first reaction was that I had seen them together in Central Hall a day earlier," said Punia.
The MP said he had referred about the meeting in his interactions with the media.
"I am surprised that for last two and a half years, the Finance Minister never referred to this meeting. It was not a short meeting but a formal meeting. There is CCTV facility in Parliament and their meeting can be verified from the footages.
"It is very clear that Mallya took his (Jaitley's) permission after holding consultations. It is our charge and inference that he (Mallya) went with his (Jaitley's) concurrence.
"It is a serious issue. Either he (Jaitley) quits politics or I will quit," said Punia.
Ridiculing Jaitley, Gandhi said: "Yesterday Jaitley said Mallya had approached him informally. He writes long blogs, but forgot to write about this in any of his blogs."
He also questioned why Jaitley did not inform the CBI, ED or the police that Mallya had told him about his plans to go to London.
"Our first question is an absconder tells the Finance Minister that I am going to London and the Finance Minister doesn't refer it to CBI, ED or the police?"
"Our second question is there was a lookout notice against Mallya which was diluted to an inform notice. Who changed it? This can be done only by one who controls the CBI," he alleged.
Interestingly, senior BJP leader Subramanian Swamy added some more fuel to the fire by tweeting: "I learn from my sources that the Lookout Notice issued by CBI for Mallya was modified from “Block Departure” to “Report Departure” on October 24, 2015 on orders from someone in MoF. Who?"