New Delhi: Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Monday appeared before the Enforcement Directorate for the fourth day of questioning in the National Herald money laundering case.
Appearing a day after his 52nd birthday, Gandhi arrived at the ED headquarters on APJ Abdul Kalam Road in central Delhi at 11.05 AM with his “Z+” category CRPF security escort.
A huge contingent of police and paramilitary personnel was deployed around the federal agency’s office even as Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) has been imposed in the adjoining area like last week.
The senior Congress leader left for lunch around 3:15 pm and is expected to re-join the questioning.
Senior Congress leaders and workers also held a protest at Jantar Mantar here against the ED action and the Centre’s Agnipath defence recruitment scheme.
The Congress MP from Wayanad has spent around 35 hours at the ED office during these four days, where he was questioned over multiple sessions and his statement recorded under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA).
The fourth day of questioning was deferred from June 17 to this day after Gandhi requested the agency for postponing the session as he wanted to be with his mother and Congress president Sonia Gandhi in hospital, where she is admitted for post-Covid issues.
The probe pertains to alleged financial irregularities in the Congress-promoted Young Indian Private Limited, which owns the National Herald newspaper.
The ED is understood to be asking Rahul Gandhi about the incorporation of the Young Indian Private Limited, operations of the National Herald, the loan given by the party to the newspaper’s publisher Associated Journals Limited (AJL), and the transfer of funds within the news media establishment.
Sonia Gandhi has also been summoned by the agency for questioning in the case on June 23.
The Congress has accused the Centre of targeting opposition leaders by misusing investigative agencies and has termed the entire action a political vendetta.
Agency sources have said the role of Gandhi and his detailed statement in the case is vital as he is a “major shareholder” (38 per cent) in Young Indian (YI) and an “important person” in the affairs of AJL and National Herald.
It is understood that the agency has put across questions to him about the assets owned by AJL.
According to sources, Gandhi was reportedly asked about a loan of Rs 1 crore taken by YI from a Kolkata-based company in February 2011 and the rationale behind it.
The questions put to Gandhi, the sources indicated, cover a period starting year 2011 when YI was incorporated. It has also been learnt that the questions cover the changes that took place in the shareholding pattern of the company thereafter, the procedures followed, and the salaries and VRS given to journalists working in the organisation among other issues.
The Congress has denied any wrongdoing in the case, saying YI is a non-profit company established under Section 25 of the Companies Act.
The party 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 the salaries and VRS of the journalists and staffers.
The rest of the money was given to the government as pending lease amount for the assets held by AJL, its electricity and building expenses and house tax, former Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala had said.
Congress leaders Mallikarjun Kharge and Pawan Bansal were questioned in this case recently, and Kharge said he gave “evidence” to the agency during his questioning.
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 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.
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, had contended in the high court that Swamy’s plea was “misconceived and premature”.
The other accused in the case filed by Swamy are close aides of the Gandhis – Suman Dubey and technocrat Sam Pitroda. They have denied any wrongdoing.—PTI