New Delhi: In its latest undercover investigation, codenamed operation Falcon Claw, investigative website Cobrapost has exposed 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 claims Cobrapost.
What these MPs 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 demanded that his fee is delivered through a hawala operator says a Cobrapost press release.
According to Cobrapost chief Aniruddha Bahal, 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.
The parliamentarians who allegedly 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.
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.
According to Aniruddha Bahal 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.
Six MPs gave cobrapost under cover agents letters of recommendation in favour of Mediterranean Oil Inc for a sum ranging from Rs. 50,000 to Rs. 75,000. Others demanded not 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, Bahal claims.
When a 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.
According to Bahal, 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 Cobrapost 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.
Cobrapost claims that the 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?).