New Delhi: Civil Aviation Minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju on Thursday came out in defence of his beleaguered aide Appa Rao — for the alleged large number of phone calls between Rao and arms dealer Sanjay Bhandari — saying that he has “confidence” in him and that the number of phone calls made can be verified.
Rao is at the centre of a controversy involving Bhandari, who is being probed for allegedly buying a benami house for Robert Vadra in London. According to media reports, it is alleged that Rao, who is the minister’s Officer on Special Duty (OSD) had made over 350 calls to Bhandari.
“If anyone has a clandestine deal with me, I want to know how they had it. It is my job to see that there is nothing clandestine going on, it is simply that. As long as I have confidence in him (Rao), he is there because he is my appointee,” Raju told news channels.
The Aviation Minister cancelled a press conference on Thursday afternoon with just two hours to go for it, but officials claimed this was because certain announcements to be made by him needed some more internal discussions within the ministry.
“What is the allegation against him? That he has spoken so many times. That (allegation) is verifiable. And it will be verified ... My personal staff, I am responsible for them, I choose them. If my personal staff has done something, it is my personal responsibility. I am supposed to be there, they are accountable to me. I am very clear on that,” Raju said.
“If you have an allegation, please give it. If you say a person has talked over phone, that is verifiable... We are for zero corruption. If you have a corruption charge, please tell us. I am not going to encourage corruption much less in my personal staff,” the aviation minister was quoted as saying, adding, “You don’t hang a fellow before you talk to him. Let us also be reasonable.”
Bhandari was alleged to have been in touch with Ra and there were allegedly 350 phone calls between the two, a charge denied by Rao who insisted that the relationship was only “professional”.