- Congress's PL Puniya saw Vijay Mallya meet Arun Jaitley: Rahul Gandhi
- "The finance minister has to explain," Mr Gandhi said
- Vijay Mallya left India in March 2016 amid the loan case
Vijay Mallya and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had a "15-minute sit-down meeting in parliament" just two days before the fugitive tycoon's flight to the UK, and a Congress leader was witness to it, Rahul Gandhi alleged today.
"Arun Jaitley is lying, Congress leader PL Puniya witnessed his meeting with Vijay Mallya," the Congress president said, a day after the finance minister rubbished Vijay Mallya's claim that he had met him before leaving for London in 2016.
"The finance minister has to explain to the country why he has colluded with the criminal and why was he having a meeting with a criminal, what was discussed," the Congress president charged.
Sources close to Mr Jaitley told NDTV that the minister wasn't in parliament "90 per cent of that day". "Those who are accusing don't have their facts right," they said.
PL Puniya said he had seen Mr Mallya and the finance minister speak in the Central Hall of parliament in March 2016, days before the liquor baron left India and flew to the UK amid attempts to recover over Rs. 9,000 crore in unpaid loans from him.
"I was in the central hall of Parliament House. I saw Jaitley and Mallya standing and talking in the corner. After 5-7 minutes, they sat on the bench and started talking. Mallya had come for the first time just to meet Jaitley," Mr Puniya said. "It is my challenge. You can look at CCTV footage and see if I am wrong. If I am wrong, I will resign," he declared.
"After that on March 3 -- he left for London on March 2 -- my reaction was: he met Jaitley two days ago," the Congress leader said.
Mr Mallya, 62, flamboyant liquor baron and former parliamentarian, is being investigated for fraud and money-laundering. In the UK for the past two years, he has been fighting India's attempts to bring him back to face trial.
Asked whether he was tipped off about the investigations, Mr Mallya told reporters yesterday outside a UK court hearing a case on his extradition to India: "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 said he had also told the minister that he was leaving for London.
Arun Jaitley, who was the finance minister in 2016 when Mr Mallya left India, emphatically denied his claims. "Since 2014, I have never given him any appointment to meet me and the question of his having met me does not arise," he wrote on Facebook.
"He misused that privilege (of being an MP) 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'," Mr Jaitley said.
"The finance minister talks to an absconder. He tells the minister I am going to London and the finance minister didn't even tell the CBI or police. Why not," Rahul Gandhi said.
He also referred to questions swirling around the dilution of a lookout notice against Mr Mallya by the CBI. "Who changed the notice on Mallya's arrest? If Jaitley has done it himself, then he should confess. It's an open and shut case."