The Delhi High Court, in a major setback for Congress President Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul Gandhi, has allowed an Income Tax Department probe in the National Herald case.
The HC has declined to stay the IT proceedings against an entity called “Young India Limited (YIL)” - in which both the leaders have shareholdings. The firm withdrew its petition, after a bench of justices, comprising S Muralidhar and Chander Shekhar, asked the company to approach the Income Tax assessing officer. The court then dismissed the petitions it was withdrawn by the firm.
YIL had approached the HC seeking a direction to stay the IT proceedings and quashing of notices against the firm with regard to the National Herald misappropriation of assets case.
The case is based on a private criminal complaint filed by BJP MP Subramanian Swamy in 2012. Allegations were made by Swamy against the Gandhis and others of cheating conspiracy and misappropriate funds, by paying just Rs 50 lakh to acquire a company worth more than Rs 2,000 crore. In addition to the Gandhis, the other accused in this case are Motilal Vora, Oscar Fernandes, Suman Dubey and Sam Pitroda. However, they have refuted the allegations made by Swamy.
Swamy said the Congress leaders paid Rs 50 lakh to acquire “The Associated Journals Limited (AJL) which published the National Herald newspaper. The BJP MP alleged that AJL owed as much as Rs 90.25 crore to the Congress party and that YIL “took over” AJL, in a questionable manner that is worth more than Rs 2,000 crore.
The Congress President Sonia Gandhi and Vice-President Rahul Gandhi, earlier had opposed Subramanian Swamy’s plea as “vague and devoid of material particulars”. The leaders further sought witnesses in the National Herald case. The Gandhis, who are accused in the case along with some other Congress leaders, contended that Swamy’s plea was “in the nature of a fishing and roving enquiry which is not permissible in law”. The submissions were made in the reply filed to Swamy’s list of witnesses and other evidence given to metropolitan magistrate Lovleen in the case.
The written reply filed by the accused stated:
“The application preferred by the complainant (Swamy) is vague and devoid of material particulars and is in the nature of a fishing and roving enquiry which is not permissible in law.”
“Swamy has proceeded to enlist the witnesses and enumerate a number of documents without divulging the dates or relevant period for most of the documents sought to be summoned through the said witnesses.”
Thereafter, the court listed the matter for further hearing on 22 April after Swamy sought time to go through the submissions, made before arguments, before the matter could start.
“Swamy, through this application, is seeking to summon witnesses and call for documents without divulging their necessity and desirability on the basis of the allegations made by him in the complaint.” “The persistent attempt on the part of the complainant to have access the documents is clearly an attempt to make out a new case which is impermissible in law,” the accused claimed.
Besides YIL, the court had summoned the accused individuals on 26 June, 2014. However, the court on 19 December, 2015 had granted bail to Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi, Vora, Fernandes and Dubey, who had appeared before it pursuant to summons. On 20 February, 2016, the fourth accused, Pitroda was granted bail, when he had appeared in the court.
On February 10, Swami filed the list of witnesses before the court. The court had given Swami the last opportunity to submit the list on 26 December. The list includes the names of eleven persons including All India Congress Committee’s general secretary Janardan Dwivedi, several officials of AJL and government officials.
The court, in a relief to Sonia and Rahul Gandhi, had earlier rejected as “fishing enquiry plea” of Swamy, seeking a direction to the Congress party and AJL to produce certain records relating to the case.
Sonia, Rahul, Vora (AICC treasurer), Fernandes (AICC general secretary), Dubey and Pitroda were summoned for alleged offences under section 403 (dishonest misappropriation of property), 406 (criminal breach of trust) and 420 (cheating) read with section 120B (criminal conspiracy) of the IPC.