The Lalit Modi muddle: Why is Sushma Swaraj under fire?

Lalit Modi
In what seems to be turning into the first major scandal for the one-year-old Narendra Modi-led central government, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on Sunday was under attack for allegedly helping Lalit Modi, former Indian Premier League (IPL) commissioner who is now a fugitive businessman. 

Here is a quick look at the controversy:

In July 2014, the external affairs minister apparently helped Lalit Modi procure travel papers from the UK government to visit his wife, who was undergoing treatment for cancer in Portugal. Indian-origin Member of Parliament in the UK, Keith Vaz of the Labour Party, is said to have used Swaraj’s name to get the work done at the UK Visa and immigration office. 

Why is Lalit Modi in the UK?

Modi is said to have fled to London after an ED chargesheet against him. Modi refused to come back to India despite repeated summonses, citing a probable threat to his life. According to a report in The Indian Express, ED officials have said that Modi can be detained as soon as he enters India. 

What are the major charges against Modi?

The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has levelled 22 charges against Lalit Modi. These include the FEMA violation charge. After Modi kept evading the ED summonses for this particular charge, the government revoked his passport in 2011. The revocation, though, was subsequently lifted by a Delhi court.

In September 2013, a BCCI disciplinary committee, of which Arun Jaitley and Jyotiraditya Scindia were members, found Modi guilty on eight counts, including financial irregularities, misconduct, indiscipline and “actions detrimental to the interest of BCCI”.

The committee alleged that Modi had rigged bids during the 2010 auction for new IPL franchises, and also sold media and internet rights without authorisation.

The list of 22 charges also included an alleged embezzling of $80 million from a TV deal.

Why is Swaraj under fire?

Swaraj is alleged to have helped a person wanted by the Enforcement Directorate in a case of Foreign Exchange Management Act (Fema) violation. 

People have been claiming this could be an instance of quid pro quo. Swaraj’s husband Swaraj Kaushal was Lalit Modi’s lawyer for 22 years, and their daughter, Bansuri, for seven years. According to reports in The Huffington Post, through a series of email conversations, Kaushal had allegedly sought Modi’s help in getting his nephew Jyotirmay Kaushal admitted to a law course in the UK’s Sussex University.

What do Swaraj and her supporters say?

After Swaraj tweeted she had helped Lalit Modi on “humanitarian” grounds, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh came out in full support, claiming she was only helping an Indian in trouble abroad.

Business Standard is now on Telegram.
For insightful reports and views on business, markets, politics and other issues, subscribe to our official Telegram channel