Senior members of AAP alleged on Thursday that Union minister Prasad was paid ₹ 84 lakh by the Reliance Group for “advising on various issues from legal point of view; recommendation regarding decision or course of conduct; vetting of various contracts on legal aspects".
They also pointed fingers at Tewari, saying he had received a retainer’s fee from the company. This fee had been paid before the two took charge as ministers.
A statement issued by Prasad’s office said, “The allegation of Aam Aadmi Party is completely false and misleading. As a well-known lawyer, Mr Ravi Shankar Prasad has appeared in different proceedings before Supreme Court, High Court other Tribunals and has also given other legal services to his clients, which includes corporate, individuals and well known political figures. The relationship with clients has been purely professional."
“Mr Prasad has never given any advice or appeared for Reliance Industries," the statement said.
Rejecting Prasad’s statement, AAP leader Yogendra Yadav on Friday made claims about the ownership structure of the firm that allegedly paid Prasad the fee, Finetech Commercials Pvt. Ltd. “Around 70% of the companies shares are owned by Reliance Global Trading Pvt. Ltd and Reliance Tankages Pvt. Ltd," said Yadav.
The AAP leadership alleged Tewari had also received money from Reliance for several years. Tewari was minister for information and broadcasting, and part of a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) looking into the 2G spectrum. Prasad, too, joined the JPC later.
However, Rajya Sabha rules and procedures required Prasad, then a member of the upper House, “to have declared his pecuniary interests in the Register of Members’ Interest before taking part in any discussion related to that interest in the House or any committee of the House," said Yadav.
Yadav pointed out that while Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi, in 2011, had recused himself from the JPC because of reasons of conflict of interest, Tewari continued as a member.
Similarly, AAP leaders said, earlier this year, finance minister Arun Jaitley had assigned the Vodafone tax dispute to his colleague, Nirmala Sitharaman, as he was earlier associated with Vodafone as a consultant. “If Jaitley feels there will be conflict of interest if he looks at a Vodafone file, why don’t other ministers feel the same way?" Yadav asked.
Tewari took to social networking website Twitter to deny the allegations. He said he took charge as minister on 29 October 2011 and terminated his relationship with Reliance on 1 November. He also attached the letter he had sent to the parliamentary committee declaring his representation of tele-companies.
The row has erupted just as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its rival, the AAP, gear up for fresh elections to the Delhi state assembly early next year.
AAP leaders believe the conflict of interest arises because Reliance is a major telecom company.
N. Bhaskar Rao, a New Delhi-based political analyst, feels these incidents are not restricted to a few members of Parliament (MPs). “If the allegations are true, the ministers should voluntarily declare a conflict of interest to the Speaker of the House," Rao said.
“Two ministers is just the tip of the iceberg. There have been two committees set up to look into this issue, but conflict of interest is still prevalent. There is a need to look into this as it is difficult to deal with corruption without this," Rao added.
Reliance said in a statement sent to Mint on Friday, “There is no bar against an elected representative to continue his or her practice while being an MP or MLA. Our engagement with lawyers is basis legal assistance required from time to time, not the fact that the said lawyer is an MP/MLA.
“As is the common practice and legal requirement, when such an MP/MLA has joined as a minister in the Union cabinet, the engagement has been discontinued.
“Communication with lawyers are privileged communication protected by the law."