#NationalHerald Case: Jaitley Suggests A Way Out For Sonia And Rahul

Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley yesterday said that the National Herald case against the Gandhis may come to an end if the Congress party returns the loans.

Today is a very crucial day for the Nehru-Gandhi clan and their family party Congress.

The Delhi High Court is scheduled to take up petitions filed by Congress president Sonia Gandhi and her son and party vice president Rahul in connection with the National Herald case.

According to the Economic Times, senior Congress leaders-cum-top lawyers — Kapil Sibal and Abhishek Manu Singhvi – will appear as lawyers for Sonia and Rahul in the case, filed by BJP leader Subramaniam Swamy. There is no doubt that the two lawyers will try and get a stay from the HC to a lower court notice asking the Gandh is to appear in the court later this month.

The HC had on Friday issued notice to Swamy to reply to the Congress leaders’ petitions in this regard.

Swamy had sought time to file a detailed report.

Reportedly, the Enforcement Directorate has started an investigation after Swamy’s complaint to it about the National Herald case. ED’s preliminary enquiry is to see if a case could be made out under stringent sections of the money laundering Act.

Going into the history of the case, the National Herald Newspaper, started by first Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru in 1938, was shut down in 2008.

On November 1, 2012, Swamy had alleged that both Sonia and Rahul Gandhi have committed fraud and land grabbing to a tune of Rs. 16 billion by acquiring a public limited company called Associated Journals Private Ltd (AJPL) through their owned private company, Young Indian. Through this they had got publication rights of National Herald and Quami Awaz newspapers, with real estate properties in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh. The acquired place was intended only for newspaper purposes but was used for running a passport office, amounting to lakhs of rupees, Swamy had claimed. Swamy had further accused Rahul Gandhi of hiding these facts in his affidavit while filing nomination for the 2009 Lok Sabha elections.

Swamy had claimed that on 26 February 2011 AJPL approved the transfer of unsecured loan of Rs. 900 million from the AICC at zero interest. He argued that it is illegal for any political party to lend money for commercial purposes as per “Section 29A to C of the RPA (1951) and Section 13A of IT Act (1961)” and demanded investigation by the CBI and seeking de-recognition of the party by the Election Commission for using public money.

Responding on the allegations, Congress on Nov 2, 2012 had said that it intended to revive the newspaper that was run by Associated Journals Limited (National Herald) and admitted that the party had extended an interest-free loan to the ailing company.

Then Congress party general secretary and media chairperson Janardan Dwivedi had told reporters: “The Indian National Congress has done its duty in supporting The Associated Journals Limited to help initiate a process to bring the newspaper back to health in compliance with the laws of the land.”

He also acknowledged that this support was extended by the Congress “in the form of interest-free loans from which no commercial profit has accrued to the Indian National Congress.”

Interestingly, he had made no reference to Young Indian, the company that Swamy had alleged was formed through the purchase of Associated Journals, in his statement.

The Hindu at that time had reported about Young Indian: “What is known thus far is that Young Indian, according to the Ministry of Corporate Affairs website, was formed on November 23, 2010 and registered under Section 25 of the Companies Act, 1956. It lists its address as 5A, Herald House, Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg, New Delhi, the office of the now defunct National Herald. While Ms. Gandhi and Mr. Gandhi hold 76 per cent stake in the new venture, the remaining shares are owned by Congress treasurer Motilal Vora, who is also the chairman-cum-managing director of Associated Journals Limited, and party general secretary Oscar Fernandes. Veteran journalist Suman Dubey has been designated as managing committee member in the new company, while National Knowledge Commission Chairman Sam Pitroda too is a member.”

Following Swamy’s complaint, Sonia and Rahul were summoned by a Delhi court as accused number 1 and 2, respectively, in the case filed on charges of criminal conspiracy and cheating.

The court had directed the mother-son duo to appear before it on August 7. Hence, the Congress had sought an early hearing in the HC.

Apart from them, the court had also summoned senior Congress leaders Motilal Vora, Oscar Fernandes and former chairman of National Innovation Council Sam Pitroda. Former journalist Suman Dubey, who is close to the Gandhi family, was also summoned by the court.

Interestingly, Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley yesterday said that the National Herald case against the Gandhis may come to an end if the Congress party returns the loans. Speaking to NDTV, Jaitley claimed that the Enforcement Directorate was not conducting any enquiry against the Gandhis into the matter and the reports were not right.

Though Income Tax department has built a strong case in the National Herald matter concerning the Gandhi family, there may be no case made out by Enforcement Directorate (ED), the Minister was quoted as saying.

“The National Herald case is prima facie a very strong case. The Congress could simply return the loan and the matter could end. There is no truth to media reports of an Enforcement Directorate inquiry in the Herald case,” the Finance Minister said.

Given the heavy evidence provided by Swamy in the case, the opinion is tilted towards a negative order from the HC to the Congress.

The day is yet to unfold as to what course Gandhis’ fate will take.

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