Reports say that ISPAT Industries Limited (IIL) made significant payments to the ministries of Finance, External Affairs, Steel, Petroleum, Environment and Forests, Commerce, Company Affairs, Mines, Highways and Road Transport, Rural Development and Coal.
Income Tax officials came to know who all were the beneficiaries after perusing the spreadsheets they seized from IIL's office on Nov 30, 2010.
As per a particular document, three payments totalling Rs 1,77,74,535 were made to one person whose initials 'VBS' are only mentioned. ISPAT Industries paid the money between Oct 2009 and Oct 2010.
At the time of the IT raid, Virbhadra Singh was the Union Steel Minister. A payment of Rs 15 lakh to the 'Min of Steel APS' is also listed in the same spreadsheet. It is worth noting that Singh had two Additional Personal Secretaries back then.
When newspersons referred to the spreadsheet, Virbhadra Singh who is currently leading the Congress party's election campaign in Himachal Pradesh averred that he had not received any bribes. "I completely deny this. I am not 'VBS'. Somebody is trying to frame me," he said.
Singh accused Arun Jaitley, Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, of trying to defame him. However, the BJP leader brushed aside Singh's allegation.
"I think prima facie these documents give you a strong reason to suspect a crime has been committed. (This should be) a stepping stone for commencement of investigation, not by the CBI but by a Special Investigation Team," Jaitley stressed.
Incidentally, ISPAT Industries doled out 1,500 US dollars to a Korean diplomat while the company was seeking to buy a mine in Busan. Moreover, a member of the Nigerian cabinet was "entertained" by the steel firm at a cost of Rs 1 lakh.
One of the scribes employed by a leading business daily is said to have been among the recipients of IIL's bribes. Reacting to the reports, ISPAT Industries Limited's owner Pramod Mittal, brother of international steel tycoon Lakshmi Mittal, claimed that the company had never paid bribes.
Asserting that the company "works as per the law of the land", Pramod Mittal added, "We follow best corporate practices."
It is worth noting that following the IT raids in 2010, IIL was forced to pay Rs 125 crore for evading tax.