When income tax officials raided a steel company’s office in Ashoka Hotel in Delhi in December 2010, they found documents that noted the company’s payments, all in cash, to officials in the steel ministry and some state-run firms.
The firm that was raided was Ispat Industries Limited (IIL). At the time, it was owned and run by Pramod and Vinod Mittal, the brothers of steel tycoon and multi-billionaire Lakshmi Mittal.
The entries of the payments suggested kickbacks so the Income Tax department followed up, asking for responses from the government departments listed in the company’s records as the intended beneficiaries of the money. But the investigations did not go any further.
One of the intended beneficiaries is listed as “VBS” -four payments adding up to 2.8 crores were made to “VBS” from October 2009 to October 2010.
At the time, the Steel Minister was Virbhadra Singh. He had taken charge of the ministry in May 2009. He was shifted from the ministry a few months after the raids.
In Himachal Pradesh, which votes in November for its next government, Virbhadra Singh, was furious when asked about the alleged kickbacks. “I completely deny this. I am not ‘VBS’. Somebody is trying to frame me,” he said. When asked who that might be, he took the names of BJP leaders Arun Jaitely and Anurag Thakur and said the attempt to malign him comes as he is campaigning for his party, the Congress. Virbhadra Singh has in the past served as chief minister of Himachal Pradesh.
BJP’s Arun Jaitley dismissed Mr Singh’s charges and said,”I think prima facie these documents give you a strong reason to suspect a crime has been committed. (This should be) a stepping stone for commencement of investigation, not by the CBI but by a Special Investigation Team.”