Aiyar sets off a controversy claiming bribing is routine in oil ministry

Months after Ratan Tata claimed an aviation minister asked him for a bribe of Rs 15 crore, Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar on Monday said he was offered Rs 35 crore in the first five weeks as petroleum minister in 2004.

Participating in a pre-budget discussion on a private news channel, Shankar accused big companies in India of trying to actively bribe politicians.

“A car pulled up outside my wife’s office. A man came out and laid a bag on her table and when she asked ‘what is this,’ the man said, ‘this is three crores (rupees). There is another 2 crore in the car,” he said.

Petroleum ministry is notorious for corruption, partly due to the nature of the oil industry — globally recognized as one of the most ruthless and corrupt.

Long time petroleum minister Murli Deora, who was accused of batting for Mukesh Ambani in the Ambani-vs-Ambani dispute in the Supreme Court, was moved out a month ago in a cabinet reshuffle.

Rumors put the reason for his removal as the delay in giving approval to the sale of Cairn Energy by the influential business man Bill Gammell, chairman of Cairn Energy. It was alleged that the sale deal was being held up for reasons not entirely legitimate.

Though Deora’s ministry leaked off-the-record statements to the media immediately before the reshuffle hinting that the Cairn deal will be allowed to go through, he was moved to the relatively harmless ministry of Corporate Affairs.

Corporate baron Anil Ambani had also accused Deora’s ministry of allowing elder brother Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries misappropriate a natural resource like KG basin gas.

Aiyar’s statements are similar to those made by Ratan Tata about demands for bribes in exchange for an airline license. Tata’s statements caused a furore, with many TV channels speculating at length about the minister who made the demand. Some former aviation minister even came out with denials that they were the ones.