Responding to a story by TheWire.in last week that Minister of Coal and Railways Piyush Goyal sold all stocks of a private company owned by he and his wife at 1000 times the face value to a group firm owned by Ajay Piramal, the Piramal Group has said in a statement that the story was "inaccurate and libelous". They have also threatened the news website with "defamatory action".
The story reported that the sale happened in September 2014 when Goyal had been a minister in Narendra Modi's cabinet for four months but had not made no mention about the company in his declaration of assets and liabilities that is mandatory for public servants under Section 44 of the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013.
The statement also said:
"The allegation that this transaction was done for undue benefit to the Piramal Group, is totally baseless and devoid of any merit. This malicious news article published by Ms Rohini Singh is libelous and is an attack on the reputation of the Piramal Group. The Group is contemplating taking immediate and appropriate legal measures, including defamatory action, against both The Wire and Ms. Rohini Singh in particular."
TheWire.in has said they stand by their story.
This is becoming a pattern now. Whenever The Wire raises issues of transparency/conflict of interest concerning top ruling party functionaries, defamation cases are mounted by corporate groups as answer! It happened with Adanis. Now happening with Piramal threatening defamation!— M K Venu (@mkvenu1) April 30, 2018
Goyal took oath of office in May 2014 as Minister of State (Independent Charge) for Power, Coal, New and Renewable Energy after the BJP was voted to power in the 2014 general elections.
TheWire.in story also reported that the sale of Flashnet Info Solutions (India) Private Limited to the Piramal group raised questions of conflict of interest since they had business interests in power, coal and renewable energy sectors.
In the wake of the allegations against Goyal, the Congress has demanded Goyal's resignation.
Congress President Rahul Gandhi tweeted saying:
It's no secret that CA Piyush Goyal, the BJP Treasurer, has pried open the doors of every major corporate house for PM Modi.— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) April 28, 2018
How then will the PM act against this Minister, caught red handed, misusing his power for 48 Cr. of personal gain?#GoyalMustResign
The BJP also jumped to the defence of Goyal in a statement titled "Congress's Political Hitjob against Shri Piyush Goyal based on Factual Inaccuracies".
"In the last month, the Congress party made Shri Piyush Goyal a target by hurling malicious allegations against Shri Goyal's bonafide business dealings to insinuate wrongdoings and irregularity. The modus operandi of the attack has been to gain cheap political mileage by indulging in a baseless campaign against Shri Goyal with no sound facts to back them but with the only intention of creating false controversies. The falsehoods spread by Congress reflect their desperation since they have nothing to attack the Modi government by."
The party also claimed that the dates of sale of the company were not accurate.
"The Sale of Flashnet shares took place in July 2014 before the declaration of assets and liabilities was submitted on 25th July 2014 and not on 29th Sep 2014 as falsely alleged by the Congress. This sale was made at full market value as per third party, independent, expert valuation and the entire sale value was received in the bank before submitting the declaration and was fully reflected in the value of assets submitted."
The reports about Goyal's deal with the Piramal Group comes close in the heels of another story by TheWire.in which reported that Goyal had interests in Mumbai-based laminates maker Shirdi Industries. He was listed as the chairman of the company till 2010.
The reporter also found that Shirdi's promoters extended an unsecured loan via Asis Industries to a company run by Goyal's wife Seema Goyal "out of friendship", even as Shirdi had a Rs 4 crore providend fund default.