As news reports about his having enjoyed the hospitality of the Essar group during a trip to Europe triggered a row, Union Minister Nitin Gadkari today said he had visited a yacht belonging to them "just to see" it and asserted he never took money from any corporate entity.
"I want to see new things and when Essar people invited me to see their yacht in the sea, I accepted their invitation. I would have gone to see it even if they had placed a ticket of Rs 500 for admission," Gadkari told reporters.
Gadkari, who had to step down as BJP president after a controversy erupted over his alleged stakes in shell companies in January 2013, said he held no public office at the time of his visit to the yacht anchored off a seaside village on the French Riviera in July that year.
"I was not holding any public office...I was not an MP or MLA," he said. Gadkari, Union Minister of Transport and National
Highways, said it was during his trip to Norway when the visit to the luxury yacht 'Sunrays' materialised. "I bought tickets from Frankfurt from our own money.
Boarding, lodging, everything for the private family visit was taken care of from the family account.
"I have never taken money from any corporate (entity). I have done nothing wrong. I am always eager to see new things. I could have even paid for ticket had the Ruias issued tickets for boarding the yacht but then it was their private property," he said.
Making light of the controversy, he said,"I have even eaten inside The Indian Express' penthouse. I have even visited the homes of some of you (journalists). People invite me as I am accessible," Gadkari said.
Asked by a reporter if he and his family members did not take a ride on the corporate group's helicopter from Nice to the yacht, the Union Minister 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 there (the yacht)."
Gadkari, who had stepped down as BJP President at the time of the cruise, today said he and his entire family had gone on a vacation to Norway paying from out of the "family account" and asserted that in his life he had never taken money from any corporates. He said when it was known that he was going to Norway Essar people told him that they have a yacht in the sea off France.
"I had not seen the yacht. They said come and see the yacht once. I landed at Frankfurt, paid for my ticket, stayed at my hotel and went to the yacht," he said.
"When I went on the trip I was not an MP, MLA or a Minister. I went with family paying out of family account. I have not taken anybody's ticket, lodging, boarding or for food and drinks. I have never taken any money from private corporates," he said adding he has a penchant for seeing things new.
Gadkari tried to laugh off the issue when he answered a question about taking a chopper ride from Essar from Nice city to the waster front in French Riviera.
"I can't go there swimming," he said but admitted that it was a helicopter that belonged to Ruia (of Essar) and he got an invitation from them to see the yacht.
When plied with more questions and whether his action would not be in conflict with decisions to be taken by him, he said he was not holding office. "I have answered your questions. I have nothing more to add," he said winding up his press conference.
When asked for comments, Essar spokesman said, "we are a law-abiding company and responsible corporate citizen and have not indulged in any wrong doing. The newspaper, article and media news are based on information that is stolen or fabricated.
"We have initiated legal action and a complaint has been filed against the suspected individuals responsible for the act of thieving and fabricating documents from a private corporate organisation which is as much an offence as theft from government department.
"Possession thereof constitutes receiving and dealing with stolen information which is punishable offence. The inferences being drawn from the information being published are completely false and incorrect," Essar said.
Congress spokesman P C Chacko said no corporate would extend any benefit to anybody for free and Gadkari's explanation that he was nobody at that point of time cannot be taken seriously.
"The company knew that he is important in his party and also he is going to be somebody more important, then they will get some benefit out of that," he said. He said Gadkari's explanation was a clear admission that many people in the BJP and in the ruling dispensation were at sometime or the other were receiving the kind of hospitality or privileges from such companies.
"It is always for the politicians to keep away from such temptations," he said. But his party colleague Rajiv Shukla made light of the issue of the yacht ride and said "it should not be made a big issue".
"I do not think it is a very big thing. If anyone travels in someone's cruise, I am not in favour of raising it a big way," Shukla said.
Gadkari's ministerial colleague Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi rubbished the reports saying "such rubbish keeps coming and I don't think one should react to them on a daily basis."