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Cong accuses FM gave Mallya 'free passage'; BJP alleges Gandhis tried to salvage sinking Kingfisher

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(Eds: Incorporating related stories, adding background)

New Delhi, Sep 13 (PTI) Allegations flew thick and fast Thursday between the Congress and the BJP over the Vijay Mallya affair -- Rahul Gandhi accused the finance minister of lying to hide the "free passage" he allegedly gave to the defaulter aviation tycoon to flee to London, while the ruling party counter-claimed the Gandhi family tried to salvage the sinking Kingfisher Airlines with a "sweet deal".

At a hurriedly-called press conference, Gandhi presented what he called "proof" in the form of party leader P L Punia, who claimed to have seen Arun Jaitley having "an elaborate 15-20 minute meeting" with Mallya on March 1, 2016, a day before the businessman left India.

For its part, the BJP lined up party big guns with counter-allegations about how Mallya was helped by the UPA regime to keep his debt-ridden aviation venture afloat.

"Mr Vijay Mallya was given free passage out of the country by the finance minister and the finance minister has clearly said the criminal told him that he is going to run away. Well, why did you let him run away? Why did you not stop him because you were colluding with him?" Gandhi alleged and challenged Jaitley to get CCTV footage of March 1.

While the opposition party demanded immediate resignation of Jaitley and an independent probe into the whole affair, the BJP alleged it was the previous UPA government that gave a "sweet deal" to Mallya as if it was the Gandhi family that proxy-owned the airline.

Kingfisher ultimately had to be grounded in October 2012 under a burden of over Rs 9,000 crore of unpaid loans and several other liabilities including defaults on employee salaries and other payments.

In the political war of words, maverick BJP leader Subramanian Swamy also got into fray. He raised questions on how the lookout notice against the absconding businessman got diluted that eventually allowed him to flee the country.

Adding further fodder to the opposition's charges, former Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi told NDTV it was a "big coincidence" that Mallya left India on the same day a consortium of banks moved to recover their unpaid debt and it was possible that someone could have "tipped him off".

The 62-year-old Mallya, who was once listed on Forbes' list of billionaires and was famously known as 'King of Good Times' owing to his flashy lifestyle, said in London Wednesday he was not "tipped off" by anyone and he had "happened to meet" Jaitley in Parliament -- a statement seen as a dilution from his earlier "innocent statement" that he had met the finance minister before leaving India and had told him about his settlement offer for banks.

Seeking to shift the blame, the BJP leaders including top union ministers alleged many Congress leaders had tried to save Mallya and his sinking business empire.

Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman told PTI the Congress was raking up the issue to deflect attention from the UPA government's "cronyism and favouritism" and the demand for Jaitley's resignation over a "brief conversation" with Mallya was motivated.

Jaitley has rebutted Mallya's claim as "factually false" saying he never had any structured meeting with him and it was a brief conversation which Mallya forced on him by misusing his privileges as a Rajya Sabha member at that time.

Joining BJP's counter-offensive, Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad asked whether Gandhi and Mallya were "working in tandem" and claimed the liquor baron had allegedly benefitted from bank facilities during the UPA government.

Railway Minister Piyush Goyal said Mallya was a criminal and his words could not be taken seriously and it was Gandhi who should resign from all posts. He alleged banks were pressured by the UPA regime to sanction loans to Mallya due to the Gandhi family's "relations" with him.

Joining the chorus, activist Shehzad Poonawalla, who often supports the ruling party in thrashing the Congress, claimed Gandhi had met PNB fraud accused Nirav Modi at a plush hotel in the national capital in 2013, a charge denied by the opposition party.

Gandhi, who had last night also sought Jaitley's resignation after Mallya dropped his bombshell of the sensational claim, alleged the finance minister had "colluded with the criminal" and allowed him to escape from the country.

"Mr Jaitley is lying, the government is lying on Rafale and the government is lying on Vijay Mallya. A meeting was held with Mr Arun Jaitley and Vijay Mallya. The logistics of Mr Mallya leaving the country were discussed in that meeting," Gandhi told reporters.

"The criminal had told him, 'I am going to run away to London'. The finance minister has accepted publicly that he has been told by a criminal that he is going to run away and the finance minister has not done anything, has not informed the CBI, and has not informed the ED. What does that mean? It means, he is colluding with the criminal. Straightforward," Gandhi said.

The BJP hit back with equal ferocity, with its spokesperson Sambit Patra, flashing a bunch of documents at a press conference and telling reporters there is a series of letters between the RBI and main lender SBI that show "how the previous dispensation under Sonia Gandhi was biased, partial and kept all norms and regulations at bay to give a sweet deal to Kingfisher."

"Sometimes it seems the airline was not owned by Mallya, but by the Gandhi family in proxy," Patra said. PTI VIT TDS KR NAB SKC ASK JTR

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Disclaimer: This story has not been edited by BW staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.


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