Bhandari mum on Vajpayee kin
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Bhandari mum on Vajpayee kin

Replying to notice from Vajpayee's son-in-law, Bhandari said he would disclose all.

india Updated: Feb 16, 2006 10:32 IST

Former Governor Romesh Bhandari on Monday refused to comply with the demand made by Atal Bihari Vajpayee's foster son-in-law Ranjan Bhattacharya to say he was not the "close associate" of the former Prime Minister whom he (Bhandari) had accused of involvement in Iraqi oil deals.

Responding to the legal notice issued by Bhattacharya, Bhandari, who was also India's Ambassador to Iraq, also declined to name the person he had in mind as Vajpayee's "close associate" saying he would officially pass on the information to the Justice RS Pathak Committee set up to probe the scam.

"The Prime Minister and those connected with him in a sense are all subject to scrutiny and are public servants. There can be no punishable libel in respect of such persons unless the statements are made with express malice. I have acted in complete honesty and respected the right of the Press and the right of the people to know what was available to me as information", Bhandari said in his two-page reply.

In an interview to newsweekly Outlook, Bhandari had alleged that a "close associate" of Vajpayee was involved in the oil deals but had refused to name the person.

Following the publication of the weekly which put the interview on the cover with his photographs along with that of Vajpayee, Bhattacharya issued a legal notice to Bhandari asking him to categorically state that Bhattacharya was not the 'close associate' he had in mind. It also asked him to have the "honesty of conviction" and name the person he had in mind.

"If your client thinks that the cap fits him, it is for him to declare his innocence to the world. I am unable to comply with the two requisitions made in Para 7 of your letter", Bhandari said in his response to Bhattacharya's client RN Karanjawala.

"Since the Pathak Committee has been set up to enquire into this matter, I propose officially to pass on this information to that committee and I have no doubt that the Committee will probe it as best as it thinks fit", he said.

"If you are asking me who I had in mind, I admit that the truth is that I myself suspected your client among others. This suspicion was greatly strengthened by the fact that the BJP Oil Minister Ram Naik had already informed the Press that many Indians were to his knowledge profiting from the oil transactions and that he might have helped some of them to do business.

"Your client (Bhattacharya) is a businessman and he would not be particularly reluctant not to do lucrative business if it comes his way. However, not having adequate evidence when the magazine asked me to name the person, I expressly declined by stating that it is not appropriate to do so", he said.

Bhandari maintained that the information conveyed by him to the magazine "at their express request was what I then believed to be true."

"This was the information conveyed to me by a responsible gentleman from Iraq about whose identity if you are so interested I am prepared to convey to you in confidence. I hav not added one word to that information nor subtracted anything from it", he said adding he did inquire from the informer of the name of the person close to Vajpayee but "even he did not at that time name the person".

First Published: Feb 16, 2006 10:32 IST