Finance Minister Arun Jaitley rubbished Vijay Mallya's claim of having met him before fleeing to London in 2016, saying he never gave him an appointment after becoming a minister in 2014 but the fugitive liquor baron misused his position as an MP to accost him once in Parliament.
Terming Mallya's offer to settle overdue loans of over Rs 9,000 crore to his now-defunct Kingfisher Airline as "bluff offers", the minister said he did not even take the papers Mallya was carrying during that brief encounter.
Jaitley's comments came in response to Mallya, 62, who is fighting numerous lawsuits in the UK and back home over fraud and money-laundering allegations as well as an extradition to India, claiming after a court hearing in London that he was "tipped off" to leave the country.
"I left because I had a scheduled meeting in Geneva. I met the Finance Minister before I left, repeated my offer to settle with the banks. That is the truth," he told reporters in London.
He, however, did not say who "tipped him off" to leave the country.
In a Facebook blog, Jaitley said Mallya's statement was "factually false" and "does not reflect truth".
"Since 2014, I have never given him any appointment to meet me and the question of his having met me does not arise," he wrote.
But Mallya being a Member of Rajya Sabha, occasionally attended the House.
"He misused that privilege on one occasion while I was walking out of the House to go to my room. He paced up to catch up with me and while walking uttered a sentence that 'I am making an offer of settlement'.
"Having been fully briefed about his earlier 'bluff offers', without allowing him to proceed with the conversation, I curtly told him 'there was no point talking to me and he must make offers to his bankers'," Jaitley said.
The Finance Minister said he did not even "receive" the papers that he was holding in his hand.
"Besides this one sentence exchange where he misused his privilege as a Rajya Sabha Member, in order to further his commercial interest as a bank debtor, there is no question of my having ever given him an appointment to meet me," he added.
Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad wondered Thursday whether Congress chief Rahul Gandhi and Vijay Mallya were "working in tandem" and claimed the liquor baron had allegedly benefitted from bank facilities during the UPA government.
In a series of tweets, the Union minister also questioned why a second restructuring of Mallya's loan was allowed in 2010 contrary to rules.
"Why was a second restructuring of Vijay Mallya's loan allowed in 2010 contrary to the rules? At whose behest did the RBI direct the SBI to grant this restructuring," he asked.
He said he could understand why the Congress was becoming uncomfortable when the banking system was being made transparent and accountable.
"Remember from 1947 to 2008 Rs 18 lakh crore bank loans were disbursed, which increased to Rs 52 lakh crore by 2014 under UPA-II led by the Congress...
"This comes after the visit of Rahul Gandhi to London. Are Vijay Mallya and Rahul Gandhi working in tandem? Is the Congress keen to save Vijay Mallya who benefitted from the bank facilities during the UPA government," Prasad tweeted.
He said the Congress sought to make an issue of exchange of "just half a sentence" between the two, Prasad said.
The law minister's reaction came after Gandhi accused the government and Jaitley of lying on the issue and alleged the finance minister had "colluded with the criminal" and allowed to him to escape from the country.
The government is seeking the extradition of Mallya, the tycoon behind India's best-selling beer, after bankers have pursued him for unpaid debt by his carrier that was grounded in 2012.
"I have said before that I am a political football. There is nothing that I can do about it. My conscience is clear and (I) put almost Rs 15,000 crore worth of assets on the table of the Karnataka High Court," Mallya told reporters while having a cigarette during the lunch break during the hearing for his ongoing extradition case at Westminster Magistrates' Court in London.
He said the media should question the banks why they are not supporting him in his efforts to repay.
"I am certainly a scapegoat, I feel like a scapegoat. Both political parties don't like me," he said.