New Delhi/Mumbai: Union minister Nitin Gadkari denied any wrongdoing after a media report said he had enjoyed a two-day holiday on a yatch owned by the Essar group on French Riviera.
An unruffled Gadkari told the media that he had gone "just to see" the yacht and stressed he never took any money from any corporate entity.
While the Congress said the Shashi Ruia-led Essar group was wooing Gadkari, the BJP made light of the Indian Express expose also involving Congress leaders and journalists.
Speaking in Mumbai, Gadkari said: "I have never taken money from corporate groups for the tours. I was going to Norway with my family and I paid for the entire tour.
"I took a ride on the yacht as the Ruia family invited me upon learning my visit to Europe," the former BJP president said at the Maharashtra BJP headquarters.
"I was not holding any public office... I was not an MP or MLA. It was a private tour. I have never taken money from any corporate (entity). I have done nothing wrong," said the road transport and highways minister.
Gadkari stepped down as BJP president after a controversy erupted over his alleged stakes in shell companies in January 2013.
Gadkari, who also holds the portfolio of shipping, said: "I am always eager to see new things. I could have even paid for the ticket had the Ruias issued tickets for boarding the yacht."
Asked about the ride on Essar group's helicopter from Nice to the yacht, he said: "There was no other option. The chopper belonged to the Ruias and there was no road on the sea that could have taken me (to the yacht)."
An Essar spokesperson said the company had not indulged in any wrongdoing.
"The newspaper article and media news are based on information that is stolen or fabricated.
"We have initiated legal action, and a compliant has been filed against suspected individuals responsible for stealing and fabricating documents from a private corporate organization which is as much an offence as theft from government department.
"The inferences being drawn from the information being published are completely false and incorrect," the spokesperson said.
Essar is a multinational with annual revenues of $35 billion and with investments in steel, energy, infrastructure and services. With operations in 29 countries, it employs over 60,000 people, says its web site.
Congress leader P.C. Chacko, however, said that no corporate would extend benefits to anyone for free.
Chacko refused to accept Gadkari's argument that he was a nobody when, according to the Express, Essar sponsored the holiday for Gadkari and his family July 7-9, 2013.
If Gadkari was a "nobody", Essar "would not have taken him seriously", Chacko said. "They knew he is important in his party and also he is going to be someone more important, so they will get some benefit out of that."
The Bharatiya Janata Party was dismissive of the report. "This kind of news keeps coming every day," BJP leader Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said.
The Express report, based on internal Essar communication, detailed how the group cultivated individuals in positions of power and influence and showered them with gifts and favours to push its business interests.
Those who sought - and got - favours from Essar included politicians from other parties including the Congress as well as journalists.
The Express also said that Congress leaders Sriprakash Jaiswal, Digvijaya Singh and Motilal Vora - both former chief ministers of Madhya Pradesh - and BJP MP Varun Gandhi sought jobs in Essar for people they knew.
The Express said a whistleblower had decided to go public with internal company communications of the Essar group that allegedly show how it cultivated individuals in positions of power and influence.
This is now a subject matter of a public interest litigation, to be filed in the Supreme Court by the Centre for Public Interest Litigation.