London/New Delhi, June 18 (IANS) Beleaguered industrialist Vijay Mallya, wanted in a money laundering case and declared a proclaimed offender, was spotted at a book launch event in London that was also attended by Indian High Commissioner Navtej Sarna, sparking a row back home. But the government on Saturday clarified that the envoy left the event immediately after seeing the fugitive liquor baron among the audience.
The government washed its hands off the event at the London School of Economics on Thursday and said the function to release the book, “Mantras for Success: India’s Greatest CEOs Tell You How to Win” by author Suhel Seth and journalist Sunny Sen, was not hosted by the Indian High Commission.
“The list of invitations for the event was determined by LSE. They have written to the High Commissioner that Mallya was not on their list,” the External Affairs Ministry said in a statement in New Delhi.
The statement said the LSE had widely advertised the event through social media and its attendees were not required to register in advance.
Sarna was invited to participate in the discussion about the book.
“When the high commissioner (Sarna) spotted Mallya in the audience he left the stage and venue immediately after making his comments and without waiting for the interactive session,” the statement said.
It said that there were two events on the day — the book launch by UK Minister of State for Universities and Science Jo Johnson and later a reception at the High Commission for select guests. The book launch event was organised by the 100 Foot Journey Club — a collaboration between the Indian High Commission and LSE.
“Mallya was certainly not an invitee to the reception at the High Commission…and was not present,” the statement said.
Seth, one of the authors of the book, in a series of tweets insisted that that it was an “open event”. “No specific invitations (were given). Anyone could attend,” Seth said, denying that Mallya was among those invited.
But the presence of Mallya at the book launch sparked off political controversy amid frenzied social media reactions.
The Congress slammed the government for allegedly soft-peddling the probe against Mallya who fled India with more than Rs 9,000 crore of outstanding dues to 18 Indian banks. A non-bailable arrest warrant has been issued against the business tycoon known for his flamboyant lifestyle.
“They (the government) are not serious about getting him (Mallya) back. The Indian High Commissioner in England understands and therefore he did not see any problem in attending the same event,” Congress spokesman Manish Tewari told reporters in Delhi.
“If the government is serious in getting him”, Tewari said, let it make public the list of the persons “who travelled in his private plane in the last five years”.
Reacting to Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s remarks that it was not easy to extradite Mallya from the UK, the Congress leader said: “Jaitley is ostensibly doing what he has been asked to do. They try and walk a tight rope and possibly try to subterfuge the action and hide lot of inaction.’