The Enforcement Directorate on Tuesday attached properties worth Rs 751.9 crore in a money laundering case related to the National Herald newspaper.
In April 2008, the newspaper, which was founded and edited by Jawaharlal Nehru, before he became India’s first prime minister, suspended operations as it had incurred a debt of over Rs 90 crore.
The case against the newspaper is based on a complaint by Bharatiya Janata Party leader Subramanian Swamy who accused Congress leaders Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi of setting up the Young Indian Private Limited company to buy the debt using the funds from the party.
In his complaint before a trial court, Swamy accused the Gandhis and others of conspiring to cheat and misappropriate the funds. He has alleged that the Young Indian firm paid only Rs 50 lakh to obtain the right to recover Rs 90.25 crore that the Associated Journals Limited owed to the Congress.
The central agency, on Tuesday, issued a provisional order under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act against the newspaper’s publisher Associated Journals Limited and its holding company Young Indian.
The Enforcement Directorate, which is investigating the case, alleged that Associated Journals Limited is in possession of proceeds of crime in the form of immovable properties spread across India to the tune of Rs 661.69 crore. It also said that Young Indian is in possession of proceeds of crime to the tune of Rs 90.21 crore in the form of investment in equity shares of Associated Journals Limited.
However, the Congress said that the action by the Enforcement Directorate reflects the Narendra Modi government’s “desperation to divert attention from certain defeats” in the Assembly elections.
“This is a prefabricated structure of deceit, lies and falsehood, of by and for the [Bharatiya Janata Party], to divert, distract and digress in the middle of elections,” Congress leader Abhishek Singhvi said in a statement. “No BJP coalition partner – CBI [the Central Bureau of Investigation], ED [the Enforcement Directorate] or IT [the Income Tax Department] – can prevent certain impending defeat of the BJP.”
Singhvi added, “[The] PMLA action can only be consequential to some predicate or main offence. There is no transfer of any immovable property. There is no movement of money. There are no proceeds of crime. Indeed, there is no complainant who claims to have been cheated: not a single one!”
The Rajya Sabha MP said that the central agency is projecting an assignment of loan without transfer of any immovable property or movement of money to justify attachment and freezing of assets of the company. He added that the action was being taken only because the company runs an “iconic voice of the Indian independence movement” and is linked to the Congress party and its legacy. “These petty vendetta tactics shall not frighten the Indian National Congress in any way,” he said.
In December 2015, the trial court had granted bail to Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi. The central agency has also recorded statements of the Gandhis and Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge in the case.