Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has been summoned by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) for a fifth round of questioning in the National Herald money laundering case on Tuesday. On Monday he appeared before the ED for the fourth day of questioning.
Meanwhile, a delegation of senior Congress leaders met President Ram Nath Kovind on the day and raised the issue of alleged ill-treatment of party MPs by police during their protest against the ED questioning of Gandhi.
Fourth round of questioning
A day after his 52nd birthday, Gandhi arrived at the ED headquarters on the APJ Abdul Kalam Road in central Delhi at 11.05 am with his Z+ category CRPF security escort. A huge contingent of police and paramilitary personnel was deployed around the federal agency’s office even as Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) had been imposed in the adjoining area like last week.
Leaving the ED office for over an hour-long break, the former Congress chief re-joined the questioning around 4:45 pm.
The Congress MP from Kerala’s Wayanad, has spent around 35 hours at the ED office during these four days, where he was questioned over multiple sessions and his statement was recorded under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA).
The fourth day of questioning was deferred from 17 June to Monday after Gandhi requested the agency for postponing it as he wanted to be with his mother and Congress president Sonia Gandhi, who is in hospital for post-COVID issues.
Sonia Gandhi has also been summoned by the agency for questioning in the case on 23 June.
National Herald money laundering case
The probe pertains to alleged financial irregularities in the Congress-promoted Young Indian Private Limited, which owns the National Herald newspaper.
The ED is understood to be asking Rahul Gandhi about the incorporation of the Young Indian Private Limited, operations of the National Herald, the loan given by the party to the newspaper’s publisher Associated Journals Limited (AJL), and the transfer of funds within the news media establishment.
Agency sources said the role of Gandhi and his detailed statement in the case is vital as he is a “major shareholder” (38 per cent) in Young Indian Private Limited and an “important person” in the affairs of AJL and the National Herald.
It is understood that the agency has put across questions to him about the assets owned by AJL.
According to sources, Rahul Gandhi was reportedly asked about a loan of Rs 1 crore taken by Young Indian Private Limited from a Kolkata-based company in February 2011 and the rationale behind it.
The questions put to Gandhi, the sources indicated, cover a period starting from 2011 when Young Indian Private Limited was incorporated. It has also been learnt that the questions cover the changes that took place in the shareholding pattern of the company thereafter, the procedures followed, and the salaries and VRS were given to journalists working in the organisation among other issues.
The Congress has denied any wrongdoing in the case, saying Young Indian Private Limited is a non-profit company established under Section 25 of the Companies Act. It said that AJL, which was established in 1937, faced huge debts and the Congress, from 2002 to 2011, gave Rs 90 crore to the National Herald newspaper, out of which Rs 66 crore was used to pay the salaries and VRS of journalists and staffers.
Other Congress leaders questioned
The rest of the money was given to the government as a pending lease amount for the assets held by AJL, its electricity and building expenses and house tax, Congress leader Randeep Surjewala had said.
Party leaders Mallikarjun Kharge and Pawan Bansal were questioned in this case recently, and Kharge said he gave “evidence” to the agency during his questioning.
The ED recently registered a fresh case under the criminal provisions of the PMLA after a trial court took cognisance of an income tax department’s probe against Young Indian based on a private criminal complaint filed by BJP MP Subramanian Swamy in 2013.
Sonia and Rahul Gandhi are among the promoters and majority shareholders of Young Indian Private Limited. Like her son, the Congress president too has 38 per cent shareholding.
Swamy had accused the Gandhis and others of conspiring to cheat and misappropriate funds, with Young Indian Private Limited paying only Rs 50 lakh to obtain the right to recover Rs 90.25 crore that AJL owed to the Congress.
In February last year, the Delhi High Court issued a notice to the Gandhis for their response to Swamy’s plea, seeking to lead evidence in the matter before the trial court.
The Gandhis had secured separate bails from the court in 2015 after they furnished personal bonds of Rs 50,000 and one surety. They, however, had contended in the high court that Swamy’s plea was “misconceived and premature”. The other accused in the case filed by Swamy are close aides of the Gandhis — Suman Dubey and technocrat Sam Pitroda. They have denied any wrongdoing.
Congress leaders protest
The Congress has accused the BJP-led Centre of targeting the opposition leaders by “misusing” investigative agencies and has termed the entire action “political vendetta”.
A delegation of senior Congress leaders, comprising Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge, leader of the Congress in Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel, senior leaders P Chidambaram, Jairam Ramesh and K C Venugopal, on Monday met President Ram Nath Kovind and raised the issue of alleged ill-treatment of party MPs by police during their protest against the ED questioning of former party chief Rahul Gandhi.
Earlier over 50 party MPs earlier held a meeting at Parliament House and took out a solidarity march from Parliament to Vijay chowk, where they were stopped by the Delhi Police.
Kharge, after the meeting, said they raised the issue of harassment of senior Congress leaders and MPs staging peaceful protests against Gandhi’s questioning by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in a “false case”.
“Our leaders were harassed and detained in police stations at far away places for 10 to 12 hours without any offence or case against them. Police have to inform the Lok Sabha speaker and Rajya Sabha chairman if MPs are detained for long hours,” he noted.
“Our rights have also been violated during our protests against ED action. Our MPs were beaten up, especially women MPs, and we brought this to the notice of the president and urged him to take action against the police personnel involved,” Kharge told reporters.
With input from PTI
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