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India opposition leader seeks finance minister's resignation over Mallya case

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By Reuters
India opposition leader seeks finance minister's resignation over Mallya case
Vijay Mallya leaves Westminster Magistrates Court in London, Britain, September 12, 2018. REUTERS/Toby Melville   -   Copyright  TOBY MELVILLE(Reuters)

By Alasdair Pal

NEWDELHI (Reuters) – The leader of India’s opposition Congress Party has called for the resignation of Finance Minister Arun Jaitley over what he termed an act of “collusion” in the case of Indian tycoon Vijay Mallya – an accusation Jaitley denies.

India wants to extradite the 62-year-old businessman from Britain to face criminal action relating to loans taken out by his defunct Kingfisher Airlines, and Indian authorities want to recover about $1.4 billion they say Kingfisher owes.

Mallya told media outside a London court where his case was being heard on Wednesday that he had met Jaitley to settle matters before he left the country, sparking accusations from Congress leader Rahul Gandhi that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party government was in a position to prevent him leaving the country.

“Vijay Mallya was given a free passage by the finance minister,” Gandhi told a press conference on Thursday of the perceived missed opportunity.

Jaitley denied any settlement had been reached in a Facebook post on Wednesday, saying he had declined to hold an audience with Mallya by telling him there was “no point talking to me”.

“There is no question of my having ever given him an appointment to meet me,” Jaitley said in the post.

A spokesman for Jaitley declined to comment further on Thursday.

Dozens of people have fled India in recent years to escape prosecution in an array of cases, many of them loan defaults, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has faced pressure from political opponents to bring them to justice.

In July, parliament approved a legislation to seize assets of fugitives accused of crimes involving sums over 1 billion rupees (10.7 million pounds), as a way to put pressure on them.

Gandhi urged Modi to order an independent probe into Mallya’s alleged meeting with Jaitley before he left the country and said until the probe was completed Jaitley must step down.

The court in London said it will give its decision on Dec. 10 on whether Mallya can be sent back to India.

(Reporting by Alasdair Pal; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Christopher Cushing)