New Delhi: Congress chief Sonia Gandhi’s troubles vis-a-vis the high profile ‘The National Herald’ case did not start with any vindictive politics of the BJP.
With regard to this case, Dr Subramanian Swamy is leading the litigation and Sonia, and Rahul Gandhi were given bail by Patiala House Court a few years ago.
In fact, Dr Swamy had filed the case against Sonia and Rahul Gandhi, the companies and associated persons, in January 2012, when the UPA was in power.
He said under the Income Tax Act, no political organisation can have financial transactions with a third party, and Congress was directly involved in this case.
The Gandhis were first summoned in June 2014 (when the Modi Govt was in power). They were accused in the criminal complaint of cheating and misappropriation of funds in acquiring ownership of the now-defunct daily National Herald.
It was alleged that the Young Indian company paid only Rs 50 lakh for the right to recover R 90 crore AJL owed to the party, which implies that Congress had written off the remaining Rs 89.5 crore.
As per the complaint filed in the court of the Metropolitan Magistrate, Associated Journals Limited (AJL) took an interest-free loan of Rs 90.25 crore from the Congress party. It was alleged that the loan was not repaid, and the rest of the row relates to a company called ‘Young Indian’.
Much to the delight of Sonia Gandhi-critics, on December 7, 2015, the Delhi High Court first ordered Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and five others to appear in person before the trial court.
They did not appear in court, and at their lawyers’ request, the trial court ordered them to appear before him in person on December 19. Later, the Patiala House court granted bail.
In his first reaction after summons were issued by the Enforcement Directorate, Dr Swamy said on Wednesday, “They have a building in Bandra in Bombay, in Indore, in Lucknow. They have properties through National Herald across the country.”
One Twitter missive took a dig at the Congress party.
“ED summons Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi in ‘National Herald’ case, to appear on June 8; Congress going mad, as the ED hit the nerve of corruption within Congress. Now Kapil Sibal is also not in the team,” the missive said in a veiled reference to Kapil Sibal quitting the grand old party recently.
Those tracking the developments in the case say the row relates to the fact that a closely held company, ‘Young Indian’, was incorporated in November 2010 with a capital of Rs 50 lakh (US$66,000), and it acquired almost all the shareholding of AJL and all its properties (alleged to be worth Rs 5,000 crore).
The AJL published the ‘National Herald’ newspaper in English, Qaumi Awaz in Urdu and Navjeevan in Hindi until 2008. AJL also owns real estate property in various cities, including New Delhi, Lucknow, Bhopal, Mumbai, Indore, Patna and Panchkula.
The properties of AJL include a massive Herald House, a six-storey building with around 10,000 sq metres of office space.
On January 21, 2016, the AJL, in its meeting in Lucknow, decided to relaunch the three dailies.
Curiously, many shareholders of AJL alleged that no notice was served on them by AJL for any meeting of the shareholders and that the shares held by their fathers were transferred by AJL to ‘Young Indian’ fraudulently without their consent in December 2010.
These shareholders include prominent individuals such as former law minister Shanti Bhushan and former chief justice of Allahabad and Madras High Courts Markandey Katju.
On December 13, 2010, Rahul Gandhi was appointed director of Young Indian, while Sonia Gandhi joined the board of directors on January 22, 2011.
It was reported that 76 per cent are jointly held by Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, and Congress leaders Motilal Vora and Oscar Fernandes hold the remaining 24 per cent.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s office had earlier said ‘Young Indian’ is a “not-for-profit company” which does have commercial operations.
There are other developments in the case too.
The Enforcement Directorate attached properties worth Rs 64 crore in May 2019.
The Supreme Court allowed the income-tax department to reassess the 2011–12 tax filings of Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi.
The court, however, restrained the department from taking any action against the two for some time.