New Delhi: Congress president Rahul Gandhi on Thursday stepped up his party’s attack on the government, demanding the resignation of finance minister Arun Jaitley after United Breweries Group chairman Vijay Mallya claimed he had met the minister before flying to London in March 2016. Jaitley has denied the claim.

“This is an open and shut case.... It is a clear-cut case of collusion. There is some deal between them. The FM must resign and the matter should be investigated," Gandhi told reporters.

The BJP countered that the Gandhi family had pressurized the former Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government to change norms and give loans to Mallya.

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) also defended its dilution of the lookout circular that had been issued against Mallya.

Gandhi asked why Jaitley did not inform the CBI, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) or the police if he did meet Mallya. “An absconder tells the FM he is leaving the country. Why did the FM not inform the CBI, ED or police? Another question is, who converted a detain notice into an inform notice?" Gandhi asked.

Gandhi’s press conference, his second in a fortnight after the one on the Rafale deal, sought to corner both Jaitley and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Gandhi said his party’s senior leader and parliamentarian P.L. Punia was “proof" that the meeting took place. Punia had tweeted that he saw Mallya and Jaitley having a “prolonged meeting" in the Central Hall of Parliament.

Union minister Piyush Goyal retorted, “Due to Rahul Gandhi’s family relations with Vijay Mallya, banks were pressured by the previous UPA government to sanction loans to the fugitive businessman, violating all norms. Rahul Gandhi should answer what were the relations between his family and Mallya. The Kingfisher Airlines was given loans by UPA government bypassing all norms, laws and regulations."

Jaitley in a post on Facebook on Wednesday termed Mallya’s statements “factually false in as much as it does not reflect truth". He that since 2014, after he took over as finance minister, no appointment had been given to Mallya and that the businessman misused his privilege as a parliamentarian and had a conversation with him in the Central Hall of Parliament.

On its part, CBI defended its move to dilute the lookout circular that had been issued against Mallya, who is wanted on charges of fraud and money laundering and for allegedly defaulting on loans of over 9,000 crore.

“The case was registered in October 2015 and a lookout circular (LOC) was issued against him in November 2015. At that time immigration authorities alerted us that Mallya was returning from abroad and asked whether or not he should be detained. There was neither a non-bailable warrant (NBW) against him nor was there any logic to detain him," said a senior CBI official, requesting anonymity. Mallya also had privileges as a member of Parliament, the CBI added. The level of the circular was, therefore, changed from “detention" to “informing" after Mallya was ready to join the investigation.

“In the period between November to 2 March, before he took flight, Vijay Mallya was questioned thrice by the CBI and he had also flown in and out of the country four times. So he was not categorized as a ‘flight risk’ by any stretch. The CBI had also not got any complaint from any bank at that time and so it was not possible to detain him and sustain that detention," said the official mentioned above.

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