File photo of India’s current Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj with former IPL commissioner Lalit Modi during an IPL match in New Delhi in 2010. (Press Trust of India)
The former Indian Premier League Cricket chief, Lalit Modi, made explosive claims that Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhra Raje had supported in writing his immigration plea in Britain and that he has a “family” relationship with Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj whose husband and daughter had provided legal services “free of cost.”
Holidaying in the tiny Balkan nation of Montenegro, Lalit Modi told Rajdeep Sardesai of India Today TV channel in an interview that 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, Modi’s new home after fleeing from India where he faces serious charges of money laundering and FEMA violations.
Raje’s purported “witness statement” was made public on behalf of the Modi camp but later the Chief Minister said she was not aware of this document.
“Of course I know the family. I have always known them…(but) I do not know what documents they are talking about,” she told reporters in Jaipur.
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 be a witness. The statements she gave are all on record 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 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.
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 center 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 traveling 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 center 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.
Modi said he has been taken to task by the previous UPA government and asserted he was no “fugitive.”
He also accused the UPA government of making him a target of “political vendetta” in the aftermath of Congress leader Shashi Tharoor losing his ministerial job following the IPL scam.
Modi started the interview, which was conducted on the shores of the Adriatic coast, with a remark that he lived “life Kingsize.”