Congress president Sonia Gandhi as well as her son and deputy, Rahul Gandhi, will have to appear before a trial court on Tuesday to face allegations that they illegally acquired property worth crores belonging to the National Herald newspaper after the Delhi high court refused to grant them relief. The HC dismissed on Monday their pleas against the summons and also declined to grant them exemption from personal appearance before the trial court in a decision that could blunt the Congress’s attacks on the government in Parliament over a slew of issues. “…this Court finds that the ingredients of the offences alleged are not lacking and sufficient ground to proceed against petitioners certainly exists,” said justice Sunil Guar. The summoning order was passed on a petition by BJP leader Subramanian Swamy, who alleged cheating and breach of trust in the acquisition of Associated Journals Limited (AJL) – the publisher of National Herald – by a company called Young India Limited (YIL), in which the Gandhis reportedly hold shares. The Congress said it would challenge the order before the Supreme Court because of “several legal deficiencies” in the verdict. “We have an open and shut case. There have been several legal deficiencies. We have unassailable arguments,” said Congress spokesperson and senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi. “A person with no locus, Dr Subramanian Swamy, alleges that though he himself has not been cheated, an offence of cheating has occurred. So, we will raise the issue of locus standi in a very big way.” Started in 1938 by Jawaharlal Nehru, the National Herald’s circulation and financial health steadily deteriorated over decades, leading to its closure in 2008 with a debt of Rs 90 crore on its head. Swamy accused the Congress of loaning this money to AJL and then assigning the debt to YIL for Rs 50 lakh – a transaction that the BJP leader said amounted to cheating and a breach of trust. “They took land from the government on the promise that they will publish news and then they go and do the opposite of that,” he told the judge. The National Herald building in New Delhi is prime real estate, which was leased out for commercial purposes and AJL is receiving rental of Rs 60 lakh per month for this property alone. AJL also has real estate assets of at least Rs 2,000 crore in posh areas of New Delhi, Lucknow, Bhopal, Mumbai, Indore, Patna, Panchkula and other places, Swamy claimed. “The impropriety of extending interest free loans to a separate legal entity i.e. AJL, which is a Public Limited Company, by the Congress Party is a matter of concern in a democratic set up, particularly, when the source of Congress Party’s fund is largely from donations given by public and so, any citizen can legitimately question the siphoning off funds by Political Party,” the judge said. The BJP welcomed the high court order, saying the Congress leaders cannot “hide” from law which was “taking its own course”. “This is what happens when you buy such a huge property for a pittance,” party spokesperson Shahnawaz Hussain told reporters, as he also hit out at the Congress president who returned from the US on Monday after a medical check-up. “Law is equal to the common man and Sonia Gandhi. They cannot hide from it.” But senior advocate and Congress leader Kapil Sibal has repeatedly argued that the loan was assigned to clean AJL’s balance sheet and revive the company. Swamy, however, contended the Congress leaders betrayed the Indian government as well as various state governments by getting prime land on concessional rates on the pretext of running a publication, and instead using the same for building malls or renting them out for commercial gains.
2015 Kashmir Despatch