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Innocent Admission

Rahul Gandhi and McKnight: Family ties that drove biz partnership

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New Delhi, May 5, 2019-

At his press conference in New Delhi on Saturday, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley made a biting claim: “Although Ulrik McKnight is an American citizen, he is a member of the social gang of Rahul Gandhi.”

McKnight was the Congress president’s business partner at Backops, the UK-based firm that they both opened – it folded up in 2009. It was a troublesome relationship in the sense that the controversy over Rahul Gandhi’s alleged British citizenship emanated during the incorporation of the company – he was described as a British citizen in the documents for incorporation.

It is difficult to say whether McKnight is part of the Congress president’s “social gang” but the relationship between the two is not just about being former business partners.

The relationship is actually more direct than elliptical. McKnight is the son-in-law of former Union minister, veteran Goa leader and Congress loyalist Eduardo Feleiro. McKnight’s wife Sonia Faleiro, the former minister’s daughter, is a London-based writer. Her first non-fiction work, “Beautiful Thing: Inside the Secret World of Bombay’s Dance Bars”, was enthusiastically received by the literary world and outside.

As a family, the Faleiros and now McKnight have never fought shy of revealing their close connection with the Congress first family. They named their daughter Indira Freya McKnight.

McKnight caught the eye of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders for reasons beyond the Backops affair and the issue of Rahul Gandhi’s citizenship. Interest over who he was developed following a Rs 20,000 crore deal for the supply of six Scorpene submarines to India – it involved a defence firm that McKnight was associated with after Backops shut down.

There were suggestions about the existence of a web of companies driving defence deals that made money from kickbacks.

On the ground though, the Faleiro-McKnights apparently live a normal, even idyllic life. Some of Sonia Faleiro’s photographs, published with her interviews, bear a heart-warming creditline: Ulrik McKnight.

In one of her interviews following the publication of “Beautiful Thing: Inside the Secret World of Bombay’s Dance Bars”, she speaks of life with her husband.

“I was born in Goa, lived in Delhi and Bombay (Mumbai), studied in Edinburgh, and moved to the Bay Area three years ago. My husband’s a Bay Area local – he’s from Albany. We met in India, lived there for several years, and decided three years ago that we were ready for new adventures. That’s when we moved,” she told a local publication in Noe Valley, San Francisco, in 2012.

“I’d been to San Francisco only once before, on book tour. So I didn’t know its different neighbourhoods. My husband Ulrik vaguely remembered Noe because he’d come down to Bliss Bar when he was a student at Stanford. A friend recommended Noe, and when we saw it we fell in love. We love the families and kids, the dogs, the aromas from the Noe Valley Bakery, the friendliness,” she added

However, BJP MP Subramanian Swamy, who wants a money laundering case to be registered against Rahul Gandhi, tweeted recently: “Bambino (this is a name Swamy uses for the Congress president) has another case awaiting him: ED to register FERA (this no longer exists) and money laundering cases for operating an illegal Barclay’s Bank Account and perhaps laundering Scorpine Submarine Kick Back with Eduardo Falerio’s son in law through Back Ops. MoF must not block the case.”

Jaitley has been no less punishing. Punning on the name of the company, Backops, he said on Saturday: “What did this Backops mean? That there will be a back office and will help you?”

Meanwhile, Eduardo Faleiro has not been forgotten even though, at 78, he is ailing and not in active politics. For the current Lok Sabha polls, he was named on the Goa manifesto committee. Congress party sources said that Faleiro needed to be kept in good humour.  (Agency)

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