Rahul Gandhi. Photo: PTI
New Delhi: Congress leader Rahul Gandhi was questioned by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) on Monday in a money laundering probe linked to the National Herald newspaper after the MP reached the agency's headquarters here accompanied by a battery of party leaders and supporters.
Gandhi, who entered the headquarters of the federal agency in central Delhi around 11.10 am, was put to questioning about 20 minutes later after he finished some brief legal proceedings and marked his attendance.
He was allowed by the ED to leave for lunch around 2:10 pm and he returned for the questioning around 3:30 pm, officials said.
It is understood that Gandhi wrote down his statement under section 50 of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) during the first round of questioning.
The former Congress president first left for the ED office from the Congress headquarters on Akbar Road in the morning and was accompanied by party leaders, including Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel and former Union finance minister P Chidambaram.
Priyanka Gandhi sat with Rahul Gandhi in a vehicle as the convoy of seven SUVs, escorted by armed CRPF personnel, entered the ED office on APJ Abdul Kalam Road.
Rahul Gandhi, 51, is a Z+ category protectee of the CRPF after the Union government withdrew the Gandhi family's SPG cover in 2019.
The lane leading to the ED office was barricaded and prohibitory orders under CrPC section 144 were imposed in the area by the Delhi Police even as anti-riots police RAF and CRPF contingents took positions to stop unauthorised people from entering.
The investigating officer of the case, an assistant director-rank officer of the ED, is understood to have put possible questions about the incorporation of the Young Indian company, the operations of the National Herald, the loan given by the Congress party to AJL and the funds transfer within the news media establishment.
The probe pertains to alleged financial irregularities in the party-promoted Young Indian that owns the National Herald newspaper.
The National Herald is published by the Associated Journals Limited (AJL) and owned by Young Indian Pvt Limited.
"The Congress party will fight this oppression by the Modi government," Indian Youth Congress President Srinivas BV told PTI near the ED office.
"We are not scared. The Modi government should be ashamed that it has turned central Delhi into a fortress just because our leader is going to the ED with his supporters," he said just before he was detained by the police.
The Congress party said in a press conference in the morning that the 1937-established AJL faced huge debts and the party, during 2002-11, gave Rs 90 crore to the National Herald newspaper to pay the salaries of the journalists and staffers who worked there.
The agency has questioned senior Congress leaders Mallikarjun Kharge and Pawan Bansal in April as part of the investigation.
The questioning of the senior Congress leaders and the Gandhis is part of the ED's investigation to understand the share holding pattern, financial transactions and role of the promoters of Young Indian and AJL, officials had said.
The ED recently 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 Subramanian Swamy in 2013.
The Congress party had called the ED action "vendetta". It has termed the charges "fake and baseless" and added that the summonses to the Gandhis were part of the BJP's "vendetta politics".
Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi are among the promoters and shareholders of Young Indian.
Swamy had accused Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and others of conspiring to cheat and misappropriate funds, with Young Indian Pvt Ltd paying only Rs 50 lakh to obtain the right to recover Rs 90.25 crore that Associate Journals Ltd owed to the Congress.
The Delhi High Court in February last year issued a notice to the Gandhis for their response on 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, contended in the Delhi High Court that the plea by Swamy was "misconceived and premature".
The other accused in this case filed by Swamy are the Gandhis' close aides Suman Dubey and technocrat Sam Pitroda. They have earlier denied any wrongdoing. PTI