New Delhi: The Enforcement Directorate (ED) on Wednesday summoned Congress president Sonia Gandhi and her MP son Rahul Gandhi for questioning in a money laundering case linked to the National Herald newspaper. While Mrs Gandhi (75) has been asked to depose before the federal agency on June 8, Mr Gandhi, who has been asked to appear on June 2, has written to the probe agency to postpone the date to after June 5 as he is abroad. Meanwhile, a political war of words has broken out between the Congress and the BJP over the issue.
The National Herald case pertains to the alleged misappropriation of assets of over Rs 2,000 crore in an equity transaction. The ED, officials said, wants to record the statements of the Gandhis under criminal sections of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA).
The case to probe the alleged financial irregularities in the party-promoted Young Indian Private Limited, which owns the National Herald newspaper and is published by Associated Journals Limited (AJL), was registered recently.
The ED registered a fresh case under the criminal provisions of the PMLA after a trial court here took cognisance of an Income Tax Department probe against Young Indian Pvt Ltd on the basis of a private criminal complaint filed by BJP MP Subramania Swamy in 2013.
In his complaint, Mr Swamy accused the Gandhis and others of conspiring to cheat and misappropriate funds. The BJP MP complained that the Young Indian Pvt Ltd paid only Rs 50 lakh to obtain the right to recover Rs 90.25 crore that the Associate Journals Ltd owed to the Congress party. The other accused in this case filed by Mr Swamy are Suman Dubey and technocrat Sam Pitroda.
The Delhi High Court in February last year issued a notice to the Gandhis for their response to Mr Swamy's plea seeking to lead evidence in the matter before the trial court. The Gandhis, however, contended that the plea by Mr Swamy was "misconceived and premature".
The first family of the Congress party, including Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, are among the promoters and shareholders of Young Indian.
The ED recently questioned senior Congress leaders Mallikarjun Kharge and Pawan Bansal as part of the investigation. The questioning of the Gandhis is part of ED's investigation to understand the shareholding pattern, financial transactions and roles of the promoters of Young Indian and AJL.
After the fresh ED summons, the Congress hit out at the BJP. Speaking to the media, party national spokesman and MP Abhishek Manu Singhvi said, "The BJP is using puppet agencies to intimidate political opponents. "The National Herald has a history that goes back to the independence (movement) days."
He further added that all opposition leaders, including Mamata Banerjee, Farooq Abdullah, are under attack by the central agencies. "All companies do improve their balance sheets by turning loans into equity," he said.
Mr Singhvi said, "In 2015, the ED closed the National Herald case. But the government didn't like it and removed the ED officials concerned, brought in new officials and reopened the case. This is to divert attention from inflation and other raging problems."
The Congress party’s chief spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala said, "We will not get frightened, we will not bow down."
Reacting to the vendetta allegation by the Congress party, the BJP president J.P. Nadda said, "Have you ever seen a criminal say I'm criminal? They (Sonia - Rahul Gandhi) will of course deny it. Documents are proof. If a chargesheet is filed, you'd approach court to get it quashed, but they sought bail. It means they're guilty."
Claiming a "strong message has gone that no one is above the law of the country," BJP spokesperson Gaurav Bhatia said, "If you indulge in corruption, you have to pay the consequences. The ED is acting fearlessly and independently and no one should have any problem with that. I would also like to remind the Gandhi family that they are out on bail in the same matter. And now the ED is probing the money laundering angle. During the congress regime, the investigating agencies were called caged parrots by the honourable Supreme Court. Now, these agencies are acting independently."...