New Delhi: Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Monday rejoined Enforcement Directorate’s (ED) ongoing investigation in connection with an alleged money laundering case related to the National Herald newspaper for the fourth day.
The Lok Sabha member from Wayanad in Kerala arrived at ED headquarters at around 11.10 am accompanied by his sister Priyanka Gandhi. Rahul Gandhi was questioned by the ED for over 27 hours for three straight days from June 13 to June 15. The Congress leader deposed before the ED investigators in the case for the first time on June 13.
He first sought exemption from appearance on June 16, following which he was called on June 17. But the senior Congress leader wrote to the ED to postpone his questioning citing the illness of his mother Sonia Gandhi. The ED then allowed him to join the probe on June 20 on his request.
As per official sources, the Congress leader, a Z+ category protectee of the Central Reserve Police Force after the Union government withdrew the Gandhi family’s Special Protection Group cover in 2019, has been confronted with several documents collated by the ED as evidence recovered so far in the case to get his version.
Rahul Gandhi has been questioned in detail about the ownership of Young Indian Private Limited (YIL) by the Gandhi family and its shareholding pattern in Associate Journals Limited (AJL), the company that runs the National Herald newspaper, said sources.
Investigators in the ED, sources said, have also questioned Rahul Gandhi to describe about the circumstances under which AJL was acquired by YIL in 2010, making it the owner of all assets owned by the National Herald newspaper.
The National Herald, started by India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, was published by the AJL. In 2010, the AJL, which faced financial difficulties, was taken over by a newly-floated YIL with Suman Dubey and Sam Pitroda as directors, both of them Gandhi loyalists.
In a complaint in the Delhi High Court, Bharatiya Janata Party leader Subramanian Swamy accused Sonia Gandhi and her son, Rahul Gandhi, and others of conspiring to cheat and misappropriate funds.
Officials familiar with the probe said Rahul Gandhi is being asked questions about the takeover of the AJL by YIL since the Gandhis have stakes in the latter.
The Congress leader is being questioned under criminal sections of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA).
The ED has also recorded statement of Rahul Gandhi to know about the incorporation of the YIL, the operations of the National Herald and the fund transfer within the news media establishment.
The ED is also investigating the financial transactions as well as the role of party functionaries in the functioning of AJL and YIL.
National Herald is published by the Associated AJL and owned by YIL.
The ED has also taken the written statement of Rahul Gandhi under Section 50 of the PMLA.
Congress leaders including Mallikarjun Kharge and Pawan Bansal were earlier questioned in the case. Rahul Gandhi’s mother Sonia Gandhi has also been summoned by the ED to appear before the investigators in the case on June 23. She was admitted on June 12 to the Ganga Ram Hospital following post-Covid complications.
There are allegations that AJL was founded in the 1930s to print National Herald and had 5,000 freedom fighters as shareholders. AJL is now in Gandhi’s family ownership. AJL declared in 2008 that it would not print newspapers anymore and will enter real estate.
In 2010, a new firm called YIL is incorporated with Rs 5 lakh and with Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi among other Congress leaders as directors. It pledges to do charity but does none till 2016, as per allegations.
It is also alleged that AJL’s 9 crore shares (99 pc of all) are transferred to YIL and that Rahul Gandhi alone holds 75 per cent shares while Sonia and other senior Congress own the rest.
There is another set of allegations that Congress gave AJL a Rs 90-crore loan which Congress writes off in lieu of alleged ownership of AJL assets worth Rs 2,000 crore.
However, Congress claims that loan was given to pay salaries of AJL staffers and to save National Herald and that YIL is a not-for-profit company and its ownership still vests with AJL.
“YIL can’t pay dividends to shareholders and not a penny has moved. How can there be money laundering without any money changing hands.”
The case to investigate alleged financial irregularities under the PMLA was registered about nine months ago after a trial court took cognisance of an Income Tax Department probe carried out on the basis of a private criminal complaint filed by BJP leader and former Rajya Sabha MP Subramanian Swamy in 2013.
Swamy had approached the court alleging that the assets of AJL were fraudulently acquired and transferred to YIL, in which Sonia Gandhi and her son owned 38 per cent shares each.
The YIL promoters include Congress President Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi. Swamy had alleged that the Gandhis cheated and misappropriated funds, with YIL paying only Rs 50 lakh to obtain the right to recover Rs 90.25 crore that AJL owed to Congress.
Congress argued that YIL was a not-for-profit company under Section 25 of the Companies Act, 1956 that can neither accumulate profits nor pay dividends to its shareholders.
Calling it a case of political vendetta, senior Supreme Court advocate and Congress leader Abhishek Singhvi had said, “This is truly a very weird case — an alleged money laundering case on which summons are issued with no money involved.”
The federal agency’s move followed the questioning of senior Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge and Congress Treasurer Pawan Bansal in April this year in New Delhi in connection with its money laundering probe into the National Herald case.
The agency then recorded the statements of both the Congress leaders and then under the PMLA. While Kharge is the CEO of YIL, Bansal is the Managing Director of AJL.
All roads leading to the ED office in central Delhi are barricaded by the police amid heavy deployment of Rapid Action Force personnel and Delhi Police.
The Delhi Police has imposed provisions of Section 144 CrPC to prohibit assembly and entry of people on roads leading to the ED headquarters in Pravaratan Bhawan on APJ Abdul Kalam Road.