London: United Breweries Group chairman Vijay Mallya stoked political controversy on Wednesday, saying he met finance minister Arun Jaitley before taking a flight to London in March 2016 amid ballooning business debts, a claim the minister denied.
The 62-year-old former Kingfisher Airline boss, who was in London to appear before the Westminster Magistrates’ Court to challenge an extradition request by India on fraud and money laundering charges, was asked by reporters if 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 replied.
“I have said before that I am a political football. There is nothing that I can do about it. My conscience is clear and (I) put almost ₹15,000 crore worth of assets on the table of the Karnataka high court,” he told reporters outside the court.
Responding to Mallya’s comments, Jaitley wrote on his Facebook page, “My attention has been drawn to a statement made to the media by Vijay Mallya on having met me with an offer of settlement.”
“The statement 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. However, since he was a member of Rajya Sabha and he occasionally attended the House, he misused that privilege on one occasion while I was walking out of the House to go to my room. He paced up to catch up with me and while walking uttered a sentence that, ‘I am making an offer of settlement’. 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. Besides this one sentence exchange where he misused his privilege as a Rajya Sabha member, in order to further his commercial interest as a bank debtor, there is no question of my having ever given him an appointment to meet me.”
Mallya added, “I am certainly a scapegoat, I feel like a scapegoat. Both political parties don’t like me.” He sarcastically described the video of Barrack 12 at Mumbai’s Arthur Road Jail, which has been prepared for him, as “very impressive”. “I have no comment, you are hearing everything in court,” he added on further questions by the reporters.
Meanwhile, the Congress party took a dig at Jaitley, with party spokesperson Randeep Surjewala saying on Twitter, “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.”
Mallya has been on bail on an extradition warrant since his arrest in April last year and is fighting extradition to India on charges of fraud and money laundering amounting to around ₹9,000 crores. At the previous hearing in July, Judge Emma Arbuthnot had asked the Indian authorities to submit a “step by step video” of Barrack 12 of Arthur Road Jail for “the avoidance of doubt” over the availability of natural light in the cell where the businessman could be detained pre-trial, during trial and in the event he is convicted by the Indian courts. The extradition trial, which opened at the London court on December 4 last year, is aimed at laying out a prima facie case of fraud against Mallya, which he denies.