ED summons Mallya, opposition blames government for letting him ‘flee’
New Delhi/Mumbai, March 11 (IANS) The Enforcement Directorate (ED) on Friday issued summons for appearance to former liquor baron Vijay Mallya and questioned some former Kingfisher airlines executives while his “fleeing” from India triggered a spat in parliament. However, the flamboyant tycoon insisted that he had not fled the country.
The issue rocked the Rajya Sabha for the second consecutive day with the opposition and treasury benches exchanging heated arguments over the case.
The ED has summoned Mallya to appear before the agency next Friday (March 18) for questioning in the ongoing probe into a money-laundering case, officials said in Mumbai.
The development comes five days after the ED registered a case under Prevention of Money Laundering Act last Monday and a day after it summoned former top officials of the airlines and the IDBI to whom it owes around Rs.900 crore.
Earlier on Friday, the ED quizzed the airlines’ ex-chief financial officer A. Raghunathan to shed light on its various financial transactions and related matters.
Besides Raghunathan, the ED has also summoned former IDBI chairman-cum-managing director Yogesh Aggarwal and other senior executives of the airline and the bank for questioning on the advances made to KFA and other connected aspects.
However, it was not immediately clear when Mallya — who is currently abroad — will return to India and respond to the ED summons but he stressed he was not an absconder.
“I am an international businessman. I travel to and from India frequently. I did not flee from India and neither am I an absconder. Rubbish,” said Mallya, also a sitting Rajya Sabha member.
Rubbishing reports that he had fled to London, the United Breweries group chairman said that he had full faith in the Indian judicial system and “respects and will comply with the law of the land”.
Mallya also said that he does not want a trial by the media. “Once a media witch hunt starts, it escalates into a raging fire where truth and facts are burnt to ashes.
“News reports that I must declare my assets. Does that mean the banks did not know my assets or look at my parliamentary disclosures,” he asked in a series of tweets.
A consortium of 17 banks led by the State Bank of India wants Mallya arrested for not repaying about Rs.9,000 crore he had borrowed.
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court gave Mallya two weeks to respond and fixed the next hearing on March 30.
Meanwhile, the Rajya Sabha witnessed a ruckus over the issue as Congress members accused the government of letting off Mallya.
“On 16 October 2015, the CBI informed the immigration authorities that should Mr. Mallya intend or try to leave this country he should be detained… Detention orders were issued by CBI… But exactly a month later, the CBI changed this order and told immigration they should be only informed,” Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad said while raising the issue in the house.
“What happened in one month? The government is party to his fleeing from this country,” he claimed.
In its counter-attack, the government, however, told the Congress that they would not let off Mallya the way Bofors scam accused Ottavio Quattrocchi was let off.
“We want to make it clear about Mallya, the government has said the country’s money will be returned. We will not let him off the way you let off Quattrocchi,” retorted Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi.
Outside, parliament, the Congress alleged that Mallya was tipped off to leave the country through a “secret understanding” between him and the government.
“Facts now suggest that Mallya was actually tipped off to leave the country in order to escape recovery of over Rs.9,000 crore of loan by a consortium of banks,” party leaders Randeep Singh Surjewala, Rajeev Gowda and Ranjit Ranjan said in a statement here.
“If government has a secret understanding or is handling the issue through back channels, it owes a duty to place the same in public domain,” they said.
Mallya left the country six days before a group of creditor-banks led by the State Bank of India on Tuesday moved the Supreme Court to restrain him from leaving India.
Meanwhile, the Bombay High Court on Friday adjourned to March 28 the Maharashtra service tax department’s plea for recovery of dues from Mallya.