External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj, at the heart of a political row over helping Lalit Modi obtain British travel documents, met the former IPL chief in London last year during a small private dinner hosted by a businessman.
Swaraj and Modi were part of a group of 15 people who attended the dinner hosted last October by hotelier Joginder Sanger, owner of the Kensington Hotel where the minister was staying during an official trip for Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas, sources close to her told NDTV.
“There was a small group of 15 people at this late night dinner organised by Sanger. Lalit was invited as a guest by Sanger. There was no other separate or individual meeting with Lalit Modi," a source in Swaraj's office said in response to reports that she met Modi in London's Bentley hotel on October 17 last year.
The sources described Sanger, who also owns the Bentley Hotel, as a family friend of Swaraj.
Opposition parties have stepped up their demands for the resignation of Swaraj and Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje after Modi told a news channel on Tuesday that they both helped him with his travel papers in Britain.
The row erupted when the Sunday Times of London first exposed leaked correspondence that showed Keith Vaz, a British MP of Indian origin, used 63-year-old Swaraj’s name to push for travel documents to be issued to Modi. Vaz was also approached by Modi for help with securing admission for Swaraj's nephew in Sussex University.
Swaraj has denied charges of wrong-doing, saying she only helped Modi on humanitarian grounds so that he could be with his ailing wife in Portugal. Modi is being investigated for corruption and financial irregularities linked to the Indian Premier League (IPL).
The sources close to Swaraj said Sanger’s dinner was a late night private affair that began close to midnight after the minister arrived in London and the Indian envoy, Ranjan Mathai, was not present or invited.
They denied that Swaraj had met Keith Vaz during the visit to London last October. Swaraj met Vaz only twice and neither meeting was in London, they added.
However, Keith Vaz's official website featured a photo of him meeting Swaraj in London on October 17, 2014. The photo showed them shaking hands.
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj with British MP Keith Vaz (Photo from Keith Vaz's Official Website)
The sources admitted that Swaraj met industrialist Gopi Hinduja on the same trip but said this happened at a “public Indian community reception” attended by 300 people, including the Indian high commissioner.
In a separate development, Swaraj on Wednesday rejected a suggestion that she took favours to get her daughter a seat in a medical college.
Swaraj’s daughter, Bansuri, is a lawyer who represented Modi for seven years. The Congress pointed this out in its accusations against the minister, citing "conflict of interest".
The minister's husband Swaraj Kaushal, whose name figured in the leaked correspondence that has appeared in the media, was the Governor of Mizoram during 1990-93.