NEW DELHI — Following attacks from the Congress over the Rs. 12,600-crore Punjab National Bank scam, the Bharatiya Janata Party March 5 accused former Finance Minister P. Chidambaram of aiding jewelers Mehul Choksi and Nirav Modi – main accused in the multi-crore bank fraud case – with an 80:20 gold import scheme.
The BJP also targeted Congress chief Rahul Gandhi and sought answers from him on the issue.
Talking to reporters here, BJP leader and Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said that Chidambaram gave his "blessings and benefits under the 80:20 scheme" to seven private jewelers on May 16, 2014, the day the results of Lok Sabha polls were announced.
"These seven jewelers included Gitanjali and Star (sic) jewelers," Prasad said.
He said the 80:20 gold import scheme was started in August 2013 under the United Progressive Alliance government and was repealed by the Narendra Modi government three months after it came to power.
Prasad said prior to the UPA’s gold import scheme, only the Metals and Minerals Trading Corporation and public sector undertakings had the right to import gold.
"There was round-tripping under the scheme," he alleged.
The 80:20 scheme was brought for nominated banks, agencies and entities to "rationalize" the import of gold in any form to tame the current account deficit.
Prasad said exit polls had predicted that the Congress would lose the elections and Chidambaram would not have been finance minister after the results were out.
"It was expected of the then-learned finance minister that he will follow constitutional norms (of not taking important decisions)," Prasad said.
"Chidambaram should say, Rahul Gandhi should say why benefits were passed on to seven private companies under 80:20 scheme on May 16. The nation wants to know," he said.
He said Chidambaram's order was subsequently cleared by the Reserve Bank of India on May 21.
"Mr. Chidambaram, is it 'jumla' or corruption? We want that real picture of Chidambaram should come before people. Mr. Chidambaram, please reply is it jumla, blatant favoritism, malafide conduct or rampant corruption?" Prasad asked.
He alleged that the Congress was trying to spread misinformation about, and stoke fears of BJP.
"Congress should reply who were the people lobbying for Gitanjali and what was the cut," he said.
Prasad also targeted former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh over the increase in stressed bank assets under the UPA government.
He said that the total advance given by banks in 2008 was Rs. 18.06 lakh crore, which rose to Rs. 52.15 lakh crore in March 2014.
Prasad said that stressed bank assets were pegged at 36 percent in March 2014 but these subsequently rose to 82 percent.
"Several times the real picture was not allowed to come on bank records during the UPA rule. The economic structure of the country was shattered by the Congress," he said.
The minister stressed there had been no non-performing assets in the loans given under the National Democratic Alliance government.
"Under the so-called economist Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the entire banking system was completely sought to be derailed because of interventions, because of pressures, because of patronage," Prasad said.
The Congress has been targeting the government, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in the Rs. 12,600-crore PNB bank fraud case and seeking answers from them about how Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi were able to leave the country.