BJP leader and lawyer Mahesh Jethmalani tells Sai Manish how Sonia Gandhi’s name made it to the NDA report on black money
Who drafted the report saying the Gandhis have Swiss bank accounts?
It was prepared by Prof R Vaidyanathan of IIM, Bengaluru, and S Gurumurthy who circulated it to members of the task force. We all put in our comments and everyone’s view was incorporated in the final draft of the report.
Was there any pressure to include Sonia Gandhi’s name?
Where is the question of pressure here?
Because Sonia is not the one you target every time. So what was the rationale behind naming her in the report?
Let me tell you one thing frankly. Our attempts to retrieve this money have been pathetic and you cannot appease the opposition with mediocre attempts. What gives rise to the suspicion that Sonia Gandhi has money abroad is that countries that are not as powerful as India — such as the Philippines, Peru and even Tunisia — have made attempts to get back their money. Why can’t we? Should Indians be entrapped in the same centuries-old passivity even as foreign invaders continue to loot the country?
Did you verify your figures independently?
Why should we have an independent estimate? We were relying on IMF figures and we don’t doubt their veracity. We have always pegged our case on the Global Financial Integrity report. Does TEHELKA doubt the veracity of GFI?
Did you get information from any other source?
As far as Sonia is concerned, we relied on a number of reports. First, we relied on the widely circulated Swiss magazine Schweitzer Illustrate. In 1991, it had reported that a number of world leaders, including Rajiv Gandhi, have money hidden in Swiss accounts. Rajiv had reportedly stashed away $2.2 billion. Other newspapers picked it up but that was our basic source. Second, we relied on a book by Russian investigative journalist Dr Yevgeniya Albats. Declassified KGB documents showed Rajiv had money in Swiss banks. There hasn’t been the faintest of denials from Sonia about our report. Her conduct in the face of such weighty allegations is completely surprising and disconcerting.
Why did LK Advani regret the mention of Sonia in the report?
The letter from Sonia was an anguished plea. The title of the letter will tell you the whole story. Sonia writes ‘Private and Confidential’ on the letter, seeking empathy from Advani. The theme of the letter was: ‘I am anguished. Please empathise with me.’ Advani responded in a statesman-like manner by addressing the anguish that was evident in Sonia’s letter.
So why single out Sonia Gandhi?
One of the things mentioned in the report is that when Sonia visited the US in 2008, a group of NRIs had circulated ads in various newspapers highlighting the Gandhis’ Swiss bank accounts. For this, a bunch of overseas Congressmen filed a $100 million defamation suit against the NRIs. But not once did Sonia deny that the Gandhis have money stashed in Swiss banks. Even the suit was ultimately withdrawn.
Do you think people’s perception about the UPA’s inability to tackle the black money issue has gone from bad to worse?
Consider the shocking case of Hasan Ali where despite all the evidence, the PM is unable to act. I don’t understand why we treat the Congress leadership with kid gloves.