M A I N   N E W S

Advani apologises to Sonia over black money charges
Faraz Ahmad & Vibha Sharma
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, February 18
Acting chairman of BJP parliamentary party LK Advani has apologised to Congress president Sonia Gandhi for a party-appointed task force report which alleged that she and her late husband Rajiv Gandhi had stashed wealth in Swiss banks.

Advani said sorry to Sonia in reply to her letter in which she denied having held foreign bank accounts.

In his letter to Sonia, Advani said: “I am happy that you have categorically denied the charges in the task force’s report on black money. If these had been denied earlier, I am sure the task force would have factored in the denial in its report. Even so, I deeply regret the distress caused to you.”

A task force, set up by Advani to investigate Indian money stashed abroad, had in its report alleged that “in India, even well-known cases of bribery and money laundering, including the Liechtenstein Bank disclosures, the Hawala affair of Hasan Ali, the Quattrocchi case and the alleged foreign account maintained in the name of a former Prime Minister of India belonging to the Congress, have not been investigated…” The task force consisted of two well-known members of Advani’s think tank, former IB chief Ajit Doval and chartered accountant S Gurumurthy The other two members were noted lawyer and BJP member Mahesh Jethmalani and IIM professor R Vaidynathan. Advani released this report at his home on February 1.

Later that evening, he addressed a crowded press conference at the same venue accompanied by NDA convener Sharad Yadav, Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and senior party leaders Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley.

He had suggested then that all ministers, MPs and even leaders of political parties, including Chief Ministers, should declare that they have no foreign bank accounts and if any such accounts are discovered in their name, the money should go to the government exchequer.

The same task force had prepared the first part of its report in November 2008 in the run up to the General Election. At that time, it had quoted the figure of Rs 25 lakh crore as money stashed away in safe havens abroad. Advani had then written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and made it an election issue.

Meanwhile, Advani’s retraction seems to have upset BJP leaders. “What’s next? Are we retracting on the corruption issue too?” one of them wondered.

Formally, however, BJP spokesman Ravi Shankar Prasad virtually echoed Advani’s words. “You may recall that the BJP has been raising the issue of black money for long. Many foreign journals have stated that Sonia Gandhi and her family members have accounts in foreign banks. So the task force had taken note of it. If she had reacted earlier, the task force would have also factored it in,” said Prasad.

Meanwhile, a cautious Congress seemed to be immensely pleased with Advani’s regret, though on record it refrained from acknowledging Sonia writing to Advani. Congress spokesman Shakeel Ahmad said: “Personally, I am not aware…what I have seen is only in the media, but if it is true we welcome it.”

Congress sources explained that it was keeping in mind Advani’s “past record” when he has taken contradictory positions on settled issues that party leaders were not going gaga over his apology. 





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