NEW DELHI: Congress and AAP today targeted Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on the Panama Papers issue, demanding a judicial probe into the allegations about some Indians setting up offshore entities in a tax haven and asking him to "recuse" from dealing with the matter.
The parties made their demands arguing that otherwise there cannot be a fair probe into reports linking sports promoter Lokesh Sharma to alleged entities floated in the tax haven of British Virgin Islands (BVI).
The demands came in the wake of reports in the Indian Express based on an investigation by it as well as International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) alleging that Sharma had two companies "of his own" registered in BVI.
However, Sharma, Managing Director of sports management major Twenty First Century Media (TCM) Pvt Ltd, said, that the companies in question "have been set up legitimately with due processes as provided by the laws of India."
Besides raking up Sharma's case, Congress leader Jairam Ramesh alleged at a press conference that ICIJ had done another investigation a year ago alleging that Abhishek Singh, BJP MP and son of Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh, was holding offshore assets, a charge denied by the MP.
Ramesh demanded that Singh and his son should quit their posts, citing the case of Iceland Prime Minister who has stepped aside after his name figured in the Panama Papers.
Stepping up the Congress offensive on the leakage of the Panama Papers linking some 500 Indians to entities in the tax haven, Ramesh demanded that Jaitley "recuse" himself from any probe into the matter in the wake of reports about Sharma, whose "closeness to some senior BJP leaders is well known". Arvind Kejriwal's AAP, which has a running battle with Jaitley, latched on to the Panama Papers leak to target Jaitley and demanded his resignation.
Reacting to the charges levelled by Congress and AAP, Sharma said it was unfortunate that a political twist was being given to investments which were "completely personal, totally legal and declared by us in our reporting to statutory bodies".
"I have already reiterated in a defamation suit that neither Mr Arun Jaitley nor any of his family members have ever had any business relationship with me, my family members or any of our companies, though I have been friends with Mr Jaitley like I have been with various others from across the political spectrum," Sharma said.
AAP spokesman Ashutosh said at a press conference, "Jaitley in his capacity as Finance Minister has all the investigative agencies under him. In this situation, how will he ensure a fair probe into Sharma's case who is known to be close to him. He should resign and come clean on his links with Sharma."
Insisting that Jaitley should "recuse" himself from any probe into the matter, Ramesh said that truth cannot come out from any probe by the ruling establishment and demanded that an inquiry monitored by the Supreme Court should go into the matter.
Making a strong pitch for a Supreme Court-monitored probe into the whole affair, he claimed that the Indian list of tax evaders who have invested their ill-gotten wealth in Panama are "known friends, well-wishers and ambassadors" of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.