Great investigative report from Cobrapost on India’s corrupt parliamentarians!
Give Cobrapost a big round of applause, folks!
Operation Falcon Claw: Press Release Posted Below Verbatim:
Operation Falcon Claw: Cobrapost Exposes 11 Members of Parliament Willing to Write Letters of Recommendation for a Fictitious Foreign Oil Major for Money
The investigation, panning over a year, exposes 11 MPs from within the Congress, BJP, BSP, JDU and AIADMK willing to issue letters of recommendation to promote a fictitious Australian oil exploration company in exchange for fees ranging between Rs 50,000 to Rs 50 lakh. Six of these MPs even wrote the letters for a fee.
New Delhi: In its latest undercover investigation, codenamed Operation Falcon Claw, Cobrapost exposes yet again a bunch of parliamentarians who are willing to not only write recommendation letters but also lobby with the Union Ministry of Petroleum for a foreign company to help it secure oil exploration and rigging rights in the Northeast. In all 11 MPs from the Congress Party, the BJP, the JDU, AIADMK and BSP are on camera willing to help the company set up shop in India. However, none of them bothered to check the antecedents of the company or check if the company was real. What they hankered after was money, quoting as low as Rs. 50,000 to a mind boggling Rs. 50 lakh as the price for a letter of recommendation, delivered all in cash; one MP even had the audacity to demand his fee is delivered through a hawala operator.
Six MPs issued letters of recommendation to Cobrapost.
Assuming a fake identity, Ashish Jadon, representing an equally fake foreign oil company, the Mediterranean Oil Inc. of Queensland, Australia, complete with a website, brochure and company profile, Cobrapost reporter K. Ashish approached these parliamentarians. Introducing himself as a consultant working for Mediterranean Oil Inc. entrusted with the onerous task of rallying support from MPs across the political spectrum for its oil exploration bid in the Northeast, pegging the project at Rs. 1000 crore, he requested the MPs he met to write a recommendation letter. It will help boost its profile and help it win oil exploration rights in the Northeast.
To our surprise, far from being turned down, which should have been the ideal case, all parliamentarians agreed to help. If some of them wrote letters of recommendation addressing the Joint Secretary with the Petroleum Ministry, others offered to either lobby directly with the ministry mandarins or get the project sanctioned with help from the most mighty among the ruling party.
The parliamentarians who stand exposed are K. Sugumar and C. Rajendran from AIADMK; Lalu Bhai Patel, Ravindra Kumar Pandey and Hari Manjhi from BJP; Vishwa Mohan Kumar, Maheshwar Hazari and Bhudeo Chaudhary from JDU; Khiladi Lal Bairwa and Vikrambhai Arjanbhai from Congress; and Kaiser Jahan from BSP. Six MPs gave us letters of recommendation in favour of Mediterranean Oil Inc. for a sum ranging from Rs. 50,000 to Rs. 75,000. Others won’t settle for less than Rs. 5 lakh for a single letter, and in one case an MP quoted a ridiculously high price for a single letter, at Rs. 50 lakh. There was no point giving them so much money.
It won’t be out of place to recall how shrill all NDA constituents, led by the BJP, went while attacking the UPA government over FDI in Parliament in the winter session, and stalled its proceedings. Around the same time, their MPs were busy entering into a deal with the Cobrapost reporter to lobby for a non-existing foreign oil major. Nothing can be more paradoxical.
Apart from issuing letters of recommendation, some of these Lok Sabha MPs were ready to walk an extra mile to help with lobbying at the highest level of the Petroleum Ministry. Some would even offer to rope in a bunch of five MPs for the job.
When Cobrapost reporter, for instance, suggested Lalu Bhai Patel to pursue our case with the ministry, the BJP MP from Daman and Diu said, “Haan bhai (Yes, brother)!” We paid him Rs. 50, 000 for a recommendation letter, as he also agreed to lobby for us. His fellow party leader Hari Manjhi from Gaya, Bihar, would come along for lobbying with the oil ministry: “Jayenge … chalenge (Will go … will come along).” Similarly, Maheshwar Hazari, the JDU MP from Samastipur, Bihar, would reassure us: “Jab tak hain tab tak aapki company ki madad karenge … yahan se lekar mantralay tak, jahan tak kahiyega (Will help your company till my term lasts … from this level up to the ministry, wherever you ask).” Hazari would bring along a group of five MPs for lobbying with the ministry. We had to pay him Rs. 5 lakh for each MP. Jasmir Ansari, the MLA Husband of BSP MP Kaiser Jahan, goes a step ahead to say: “ … tumhara ye jo project hai poora kara denge … Sonia se kehke … kisi se bhi keh ke … toh kisse hum baat karein (… we will see your project through … by talking to Sonia or somebody else … then whom should we talk to [in your company]).” He would charge Rs. 5 lakh for three letters, one from his MP wife, and two from other MPs.
Only a few parliamentarians played it safe by keeping the deal as much discrete as they could help. They wouldn’t enter into direct negotiations with the party or talk money, and raised their brows if the Cobrapost reporter talked money. For instance, while AIADMK MP from Pollachi, Tamil Nadu, K. Sugumar was “Ok” with money talk, his fellow party MP from South Chennai C. Rajendran would have none of it. After paying his staff Rs. 50,000 for a recommendation letter, when we managed to tell Lalu Bhai (BJP) about the payment, he shot back: “Mujhe nahin … ye baat mujhe nahin bolna (Not me … don’t tell me this thing).” But most of them had no problem discussing money with Cobrapost reporter. Congress MP Khiladi Lal Bairwa would quote Rs. 50 lakh as his price for writing a recommendation letter and would invite the Cobrapost reporter to his Mansarovar address in Jaipur, Rajasthan, to deliver the “material.”
His party fellow MP Vikrambhai Arjanbhai from Jamnagar, Gujarat, would neither like to talk money nor like it to have delivered at his door. He would rather like his fee, a tidy sum of Rs. 6 lakh, to have delivered through an Angadia, a hawala racketeer. He negotiates through his personal assistant. However, when the reporter asks the MP for the letter first, he impatiently replies, “letter pehle thode milta hai? Letter koi de dega aapko pehle?” (you will not get the letter beforehand, has anyone given you the letter beforehand?).
Most of the time, these honourables prefer to work through their staff or relatives or middlemen who would act as facilitators in such underhand deals. So, apparently there exists a nexus between such middlemen and the parliamentarians. A stroll down the South Avenue, North Avenue and Baba Kharak Singh Marg in Lutyen’s Delhi, where our MPs are housed, is enough to find such a nexus in full play.
Avnish Singh, Dharmendra and Nair were such touts who helped us uncover the corrupt deeds of these parliamentarians. Nair helped us strike a deal with three MPs, one of them his own master, Dharmendra would help us with two more MPs and Avnish helped us with two MP. Avnish got suspicious when the recording instrument began to beep intermittently as it went low on battery. “Kuch gadbad toh nahin hai na bhai sahib … ye aajkal ka samay theek nahin hai na (Hope there is no problem Bhai Sahib … these are bad times).” Cobrapost lost touch with him.
Most audacious of the flock was Swaminath Jaiswal, a self-confessed, revolver wielding liquor mafia from Chhattisgarh who hobnobs with the high and the mighty among the political class of his home state and Delhi. A wannabe parliamentarian, Jaiswal turns into a street-smart ruffian while securing his cut for the deal he helped Cobrapost with BJP MP Lalu Bhai.
Writing letters to various government agencies to seek help for some public cause is understandable and our MPs are within their right to do that. But lobbying for a foreign corporate entity is an entirely uncalled for exercise as it may affect policy decisions, and when we have such parliamentarians as these it is no surprise that the corporate world now calls the shot when it comes to policy making as issues of public interest get a raw deal at the hands of both the Parliament and the government of the day.