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Sinha denies links with Flex chief: `It was a routine, transparent transaction'

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THE Finance Minister, Mr Yashwant Sinha, who had come under fire from the Opposition for purchasing poll material from Flex Industries, today sought to absolve himself of the charges, saying that he neither compromised his dignity nor effectiveness as a Minister by this action.

While admitting that he had indeed purchased some election publicity material from Flex Industries as reported in a newspaper a few days ago, Mr Sinha said in a statement in the Lok Sabha on Wednesday that it was "an entirely routine, transparent and above board transaction".

Mr Sinha said that there was no conflict of interest between his present assignment and the investigation by the CBI in the bribery case against the former Chief Commissioner of Excise, Mr Someshwar, and the Flex chief, Mr Ashok Chaturvedi. He held that he had no hand either in the transfer of any official investigating the case nor had he influenced the CBI.

The Finance Minister received support from Samajwadi Party, with Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav saying that all parties took donations for elections and had some links with business houses. The Congress and Left parties, however, staged a walk out saying that they were dissatisfied with Mr Sinha's reply.

Even as he admitted that he had got some publicity material from a few printers in Delhi for his Lok Sabha campaign in 1999 including Flex Industries which is also in the business of printing, Mr Sinha made it clear that he had no other link with the Flex chief.

"The fact that I purchased some election publicity material from a supplier can by no stretch of imagination be construed to mean that I have a relationship with him. I also cannot be expected to guarantee his good character and good conduct forever," Mr Sinha said.

Giving the details of the purchase, Mr Sinha said that the printed materials were despatched to Hazaribagh by rail. For the supplies received from Flex Industries as from other printers, regular bills were raised by these firms and full payment made to them.

"My records reveal for the supplies received from Flex Industries they had submitted five bills amounting to Rs 45,583. This amount was duly incorporated in a statutory return on election expenses filed with the District Election Officer (DEO) of Hazaribagh Lok Sabha constituency. These records should be available with the Election Commission and the DEO," Mr Sinha said.

Raids on the office of Mr Someshwar were conducted by the CBI on November 7, last year after which Mr Someshwar and Mr Chaturvedi were taken into custody on charges of graft.

The Finance Minister maintained that the investigation into the matter was being conducted by the CBI, which did not fall within the area of his Ministerial responsibility.

"The CBI is neither required to report to me nor has it kept me updated on the progress of the case from time to time. There is, therefore, no conflict of interest whatsoever between my present assignment and the investigation by the CBI in the case against Mr Someshwar and Mr Chaturvedi," he said.

The Minister pointed out that Mr Kailesh Sethi, the then Deputy Director-General of the Central Economic Intelligence Bureau (CIEB), had been on deputation to this organisation from his parent Department of Customs and Central Excise. His transfer back to the parent department in December last year was done on administrative considerations and in public interest.

"I would also like to add that I had nothing to do with the transfer of Mr M.S. Bali, Joint Director of CBI, as alleged by Mr Bansal," held Mr Sinha.

Mr Sinha's statement was also tabled in the Rajya Sabha.

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