Sonia Gandhi appears before ED for questioning in National Herald case

Sonia Gandhi. Photo: PTI/File

New Delhi: Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Thursday appeared before the Enforcement Directorate (ED) here for her questioning in the National Herald money laundering case.

Gandhi, 75, arrived at the federal probe agency's headquarters located at Vidyut Lane flanking A P J Abdul Kalam Road in central Delhi a little after noon escorted by her Z+ category CRPF security cover.

Gandhi, who was diagnosed with Covid recently, was seen wearing a mask and was accompanied by her children Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi.

Priyanka Gandhi will be allowed to stay in the 'Pravartan Bhawan' headquarters of the agency, away from the questioning room, so that in case of a health issue she can be with her mother and provide her medicines.

Ahead of her appearance, the Delhi Police deployed a huge force and barricaded the entire over 1 km stretch between Gandhi's residence on Akbar Road-Janpath and the ED office even as traffic restrictions have been enforced around the area.

The party has slammed the agency's action against its top leadership and called it a "political vendetta".

The Congress chief is deposing on the third summons as she sought exemption on earlier dates of June 8 and June 23 owing to coronavirus infection.

Her statement will be recorded by the agency under criminal sections of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) and it will be also be taped in an audio-video mode.

The agency, according to sources, will give her an option to either write down or dictate her answers to an ED staffer over computer, who will be present along with the investigating officer of the case.

The probe relates to alleged financial irregularities in the Congress-promoted Young Indian Private Limited, which owns the National Herald newspaper.

Her son and Congress MP Rahul Gandhi has been questioned by the agency in the case for over 50 hours in sessions spread across five days last month.

The questioning will be conducted keeping in mind Covid protocols and the session will be conducted by the same assistant director-level investigation officer who questioned Rahul Gandhi.

The questioning team will also have a woman officer and all of them have obtained 'covid negative' certificates in order to participate in the session, sources said.

The move to question the Gandhis was initiated after the ED late last year 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 on the basis of 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. 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 YI 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 on Swamy's plea, seeking to lead evidence in the matter before the trial court.

Congress leaders Mallikarjun Kharge and Pawan Bansal were questioned by the ED in this case in April.

The Congress party has maintained that there has been no wrongdoing and that Young Indian is a "not-for-profit" company established under section 25 of the Companies Act and hence there can be no question of money laundering.

It is understood that Rahul Gandhi, during his deposition before the ED, stuck to the position that there was no personal acquisition of assets by himself or his family as Young Indian was a "not-for-profit" company and that despite he being a majority shareholder various financial decisions taken to revive the National Herald newspaper was taken collectively by senior Congress party leaders.

The ED, sources said, wanted to understand how the loan was extended to AJL by the Congress party and if the provisions of the Companies Act and the anti-money laundering law were contravened in this AJL-Congress-Young Indian deal.

The ED says that assets worth about Rs 800 crore are "owned" by the AJL and it wants to know from the Gandhis how a not-for-profit company like Young Indian was undertaking commercial activities of renting out its land and building assets.

A loan of Rs one crore taken by YI from a Kolkata-based company in February 2011 is also under the scanner of the ED.

The party had said 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 salaries/VRS of journalists and staffers who worked there.


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