Jaitley questions Virbhadra's defence on graft charges

BJP leader Arun Jaitley Monday questioned former steel minister Virbhadra Singh's defence over allegations that a private firm had made payments to "VBS" during his tenure.

Jaitley added that it did not matter how the Congress leader wrote his initials but how the steel company which paid the money had made an acronym of his name.

Targeting Virbhadra Singh, who is leading the Congress campaign in poll-bound Himachal Pradesh, Jaitley demanded a Special Investigation Team probe into revelations that Ispat Industries Limited had allegedly made payments to bureaucrats and officials in steel and coal ministries during 2009-10 as revealed by a news channel Friday.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader said the media had highlighted that a steel manufacturing company was raided by the Income Tax Department and accounts of certain "extensive" payments made by it to different departments of the government and individuals between 2007 and 2010 had been revealed.

"There are extensive payments to the staff of the ministry of steel. Amounts are stated to be spent on various public sector undertakings attached to the ministry of steel and to certain individuals allegedly holding key positions in the government," Jaitley said in an article posted on the BJP's website.

"A news item appearing in the leading national daily has highlighted the most disturbing entry namely 'Amount of expenses CBI, ED staff'," he added, accusing the government of concealing the information.

He said silence of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi will amount to "condonation of corruption."

"What is the Prime Minister going to do now. Is he going to add to the environment of negativity by looking the other way and ignore facts? Were these facts known to him and the Congress President when they took certain decisions with regard to the Congress Party's organizational changes in Himachal Pradesh? Their silence will reflect on their condonation of corruption," Jaitley said in his article.

The BJP leader said the accounts have been in possession of the income tax authorities for the past 22 months and Central Board of Direct Taxes, revenue secretary and the finance ministry must have been aware of this.

Referring to Virbhadra Singh's remarks that he refers to himself as "VS" and not "VBS",
Jaitley said the issue is whether the steel manufacturer who maintained books of accounts refers to him as "VBS" or not.

He also sought to refute the former steel minister's charge that the BJP could be behind this exposure.

Jaitley said the BJP or its members had not prepared the books of accounts and the raid was carried out by the income tax department.

He said the Congress has jumped to the defence of the purported 'VBS' by stating that a diary is not an admissible evidence and had cited the judgement of the Supreme Court in the infamous Jain Hawala case.

"The judgement in the Jain Hawala case has no bearing on this case. These are regular books of accounts. There is a serial number, date of payment or receipt, the person to whom the payment is made, the person who authorised the said payment," he said and added that the books reflect a criminal conspiracy between a bribe giver and a bribe taker.

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