A Cobrapost investigation exposes 11 MPs who were willing to write letters of recommendation to promote a fictitious oil exploration company for money
NEW DELHI (TIP):
An investigative website, in an expose, has revealed names of 11 Members of Parliament who were allegedly willing to take money for writing letters of recommendation for a fictitious foreign oil major. The Cobrapost investigation, panning over a year, exposed 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. Codenamed Operation Falcon Claw, the expose claimed that the MPs were not only willing to 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. What they 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 had the audacity to demand his fee is delivered through a hawala operator. The parliamentarians who 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. Six MPs gave letters of recommendation in favour of Mediterranean Oil Inc. for a sum ranging from Rs 50,000 to Rs 75,000.
Others won’t settle for 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. Apart from issuing letters of recommendation, some of these Lok Sabha MPs were ready to walk an extra mile to help with lobbying at the highest level of the Petroleum Ministry. Some would even offer to rope in a bunch of five MPs for the job. When 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.
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 we 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).” Assuming a fake identity, Cobrapost reporter representing the fake foreign oil company, the Mediterranean Oil Inc. of Queensland, Australia, approached these parliamentarians.
Introducing him 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.