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'Modigate' row deepens, Congress guns for Raje and Swaraj's sacking

Source: PTI
Last updated on: June 17, 2015 13:33 IST
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As the Bharatiya Janata Party battled a deepening row involving two of its top leaders Vasundhara Raje and Sushma Swaraj, former Finance Minister P Chidambaram on Wednesday demanded release of all letters written to British authorities on the Lalit Modi case during the UPA rule which he said will answer accusations against Congress and him.

The Congress also demanded the resignation of the Rajasthan Chief Minister Raje and External Affairs Minister Swaraj for helping Modi, tainted former IPL Commissioner, "an economic offender and a fugitive".

The Congress' escalation of the attack came the morning after Modi's explosive claims that Raje had supported in writing his immigration plea in Britain and that he has a "family" relationship with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj whose husband and daughter had provided legal services "free of cost".

"The complete answer to Lalit Modi's accusations against UPA can be found in the letters to the UK Chancellor. Release them," Chidambaram, a senior Congress leader, tweeted today.

Lalit Modi in a television interview on Tuesday night accused Congress and Chidambaram of making him a target of "political vendetta" in the aftermath of Congress leader Shashi Tharoor losing his ministerial job following the IPL scam.

More than two years ago as Finance Minister, Chidambaram had asked the British government why it was not taking action against Modi, former IPL chief who had taken refuge in London after he was accused of a wide range of financial impropriety, including money laundering.

Chidambaram had taken up the issue during his meeting with the Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne in 2013.

He had wanted Britain to deport him as Modi's passport was impounded in India and his UK visa had run out.

With the latest revelations in Modigate drawing Vasundhra Raje into the controversy, Congress spokesperson Shobha Ojha demanded that Raje and Swaraj should step down for helping Modi.

She also targeted Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saying his silence in the matter so far showed that "there is a mute support by the PM to these leaders".

Meanwhile, holidaying in the tiny Balkan nation of Montenegro, Modi said Raje had accompanied his wife to Portugal for her cancer treatment two years ago. Raje became chief minister of Rajasthan for the second time in December 2013.

The comments of the tainted former IPL Commissioner assume significance because it came hours after it was reported that Raje had given a "Witness Statement" in August 2011 to British authorities supporting his case for immigration in Britain which he has made his base after fleeing from India where he faces serious charges of money laundering and FEMA violations.

Raje's purported "witness statement" was made public earlier in the day on behalf of the Modi camp but later in the night the Chief Minister said she was not aware of this document.

In the interview, Modi said: "My relationship with Vasundhara Raje goes back 30 years. That relationship is known to everybody. She is a close friend of the family and my wife for a long time... She openly agreed to be (to be a witness), but
unfortunately by the time the case went to trial, she was already chief Minister, so she did not come to become a witness. The statements she gave is all on records in the courts."

"Raje and Sushma supported me when my wife was sick," he said.

"It was a family, a legal whatever you may call it. We were very close. But the point is not that... I am very close to a lot of politicians, not only Mrs Swaraj...," Modi said when asked about his relationship with Sushma Swaraj.

"My wife was being taken to Portugal by whom, by Mrs Vasundhara Raje. Nobody knows that, I am putting that on record now," Modi said, adding she accompanied his wife Minal in 2012 and 2013.

The surfacing of the "witness statement" gave a new twist to the controversy surrounding External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj's help to Modi to seek British travel documents.

"I did ask her(Swaraj) help," Modi said, adding that he would have made a similar plea to any other External Affairs Minister in office.

"I know Swaraj Kaushal(Sushma's husband) for 20 years. He has been my advocate for 20 years... his daughter Bansuri had been my advocate for four years," he said, adding that their services had been provided "free of cost".

The Witness Statement came into circulation just hours after Finance Minister Arun Jaitley backed Swaraj saying whatever she had done was in good faith and bona fide.

The document had a confidentiality clause in which Raje purportedly supported Modi's case but did not want it to be revealed to Indian authorities.

Swaraj found herself at the centre of a political firestorm after the UK-based Sunday Times reported a "leaked conversation" between influential Labour MP Keith Vaz and head of UK Visas and Immigration Sarah Rapson that cited Swaraj to facilitate travel documents for Lalit Modi.

The TV channel also quoted Modi having told it that he was also helped by NCP leaders Sharad Pawar and Praful Patel and Congress leader Rajiv Shukla.

Shukla said he had not talked to Modi for three years while Pawar said he tried to convince the former IPL chief to return to India and face investigations.

To a question, Modi said he was not travelling to India because of security concerns.

Asked about his holiday in the famous Ibiza resort three days after the surgery of his wife, Modi said the family decided to celebrate because the "revolutionary treatment" received at the Portugal medical centre helped her because the liver cancer she was suffering from was in the final stage.

Modi said he had done no wrong and has always gone by the book and that he has paid all his dues.

He said he has been taken to task by the previous UPA government and asserted he was no "fugitive".

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