NEW DELHI: Hitting out at the BJP-led ruling government at the Centre, Congress president Rahul Gandhi on Saturday questioned Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the multi-million Punjab National Bank (PNB) fraud.
He trained guns at the Prime Minister and asked him to explain how Rs.22,000 crore was "taken" away from the country's banking system by jeweller Nirav Modi, the main accused, after the demonetisation. He said 90 per cent of the scam took place during the NDA regime and wanted to know what action would be taken in the whole episode.
"This started on November 8, 2016 when Modiji turned 500 and 1000 rupee notes into a scrap. He took out all the money from people`s pockets and put it in the banking system. The strange thing is Modiji (Nirav Modi) takes away Rs. 22,000 crore. The Prime Minister teaches students how to take exams for one hour and 45 minutes. But he can`t tell the nation that Rs. 22,000 crore, the people`s money which Nirav Modiji snatched away, who is responsible for this," he told PTI.
Referring to the silence of the Prime Minister and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on the scam, Gandhi said "several ministers are coming - social justice minister, defence minister came. But finance minister and Prime Minister, who are responsible, have not spoken a word about it."
Following a press conference held by Congress today, Union Minister Nirmala Sitharaman accused the UPA government of misleading people and covering up the PNB fraud by accusing the BJP.
Alleging that top Congress leaders are involved in this scam, Sitharaman said, "Gitanjali Gems was suspended for 6 months from doing business on NSE in 2013. On September 13, 2013, Rahul Gandhi attended a promotional event for this jewellery group."
Referring to a discussion in the meeting in which former Finance Minister P Chidambaram was also present, he said that a scam of this level, a scam of Rs. 22,000 crore, the money which Nirav Modi has taken, and which Prime Minister Modi is ignoring, cannot have been done without a high-level protection.
"It must have been known to the people in government beforehand. Otherwise, it is not possible because the amount is so huge. So the question is PM made people deposit money in the banking system, in a way he took the responsibility of protecting people`s money. And now it has been a failure of that," he said.
The blame game between the leading political parties has been going on since the news of PNB fraud went public. While the Congress has been accusing the BJP of letting billionaire Nirav Modi leave the country, the BJP has hit back saying the PNB scam took place in the previous UPA government regime.
Earlier in the day, senior Congress leader Kapil Sibal attacked PM Modi on his refusal to accept BJP's role in the Nirav Modi-PNB scam.
Meanwhile, a Special Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court has sent the three PNB officials accused in the fraud in 14-day police custody till March 3.
Earlier in the day, the CBI had arrested Gokulnath Shetty, the then deputy Manager (now Retd) of the PNB, Manoj Kharat, the single window operator (SWO) and Hemant Bhat, the Authorised Signatory of the Nirav Modi Group of Firms.
It had emerged that the fraudulently issued Letters of Undertaking (LoUs) from the Mumbai branch of PNB were issued in favour of Hong Kong branches of Allahabad Bank and Axis Bank. These letters helped facilitate Rs 280.7 crore fraud by jewellery designer Nirav Modi among others.
As per the FIR lodged with the CBI, Shetty and Kharat had transmitted SWIFT instructions to the above-mentioned banks for raising buyers credit and for funding the Nostro accounts of PNB, without due procedure. The LoUs were issued on behalf of Diamond R US, Solar Exports, Stellar Diamonds.
(With agency inputs)