Union Minister Nitin Gadkari on Thursday suggested that it is unfair to tag a “one-time loan defaulter Vijay Mallyaji” as a “chor” (thief), adding that the embattled businessman has a four-decade-long track record of timely debt servicing.

Mr Gadkari, however, clarified that he has no business dealing with Vijay Mallya, who faces extradition from the UK for alleged bank fraud and money laundering amounting to an estimated Rs. 9,000 crore.

“40 saal Mallya regular payment kar raha tha, byaaj bhar raha tha. 40 saal baad jab wo aviation mein gaya….uske baad wo adchan mein aaya to woh ekdum chor ho gaya?…jo pachaas saal byaaj bharta hai wo theek hai, par ek baar wo default ho gaya…toh turant sab fraud ho gaya? Ye mansikta theek nahi hai.”

On December 10, following the Westminster court order, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley tweeted: “Great Day for India. No one who cheats India will go scot free… An offender benefited during the UPA. The NDA brings him to book.”

BJP president Amit Shah also took to Twitter and credited the Prime Minister for the extradition order. “Vijay Mallya’s extradition is a very significant development in India’s fight against corruption. The credit for this goes entirely to Prime Minister @narendramodi, who ensured that the agencies were unrelenting in their pursuit of the man who had bled Indian banks and fled,” Shah tweeted.

Mallya has defaulted on loans worth over Rs 9,000 crore and has been living in self-imposed exile in the United Kingdom since March 2016. Earlier this week, a court in London ordered his extradition after finding a prima facie case of fraud, conspiracy and money laundering against him.

The minister of road transport and highways, however, clarified that he has had no business transactions with Mallya.

The minister added that businessmen going through a downward cycle need to be supported. “There are risks in business, be it banking or insurance, there are ups and downs,” said Gadkari. “But, if the mistakes are bona fide, because of global or internal factors in the economy like a recession, then that person who is facing difficulties must be given support.”

“If Nirav Modi or Vijay Mallyaji have committed [financial] fraud then send them to jail, but whoever comes in distress, and if we label them as fraudster then our economy will not progress,” he added.

Speaking at the same event, Gadkari also defended the Centre and said that the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government had not destroyed the Reserve Bank of India as an institution. The central bank is part of the government and has to support the economic vision of the government, he added.

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