New Delhi: Congress interim president Sonia Gandhi was questioned by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) for over three hours Thursday in connection with an alleged money laundering case involving the National Herald newspaper.
Gandhi, sources told ThePrint, was asked over a dozen questions on matters ranging from an alleged loan of Rs 90 crore given by the Congress party to National Herald publisher Associated Journals Limited (AJL), to the earnings and spending of Young Indian Pvt Ltd, the company that owns the newspaper, in which she is said to have majority stake.
The National Herald case pertains to the alleged misappropriation of assets worth over Rs 2,000 crore in an equity transaction. There are allegations of cheating, conspiracy and criminal breach of trust in the 2010 acquisition of AJL by Young Indian Pvt Ltd, in which Sonia’s son and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi too is said to have majority stake.
Sonia Gandhi’s daughter, party leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, was also present in the building during the questioning, in case her mother required any medicines. The Congress president left the ED premises by lunch time.
The ED had also questioned Rahul for over ten hours a day for five days between 13 and 21 June in connection with the case, while Sonia, who was summoned by the agency on 23 June, had asked for postponement citing health issues. She was then diagnosed with Covid and was given a later date of 21 July. She has been called again on 25 July.
‘Proceeds of crime’ is focus of probe
According to ED sources, the focus of the agency’s probe is the “proceeds of crime” generated from the “fraudulent takeover of AJL by Young Indian”.
Young Indian allegedly fraudulently acquired properties of AJL worth Rs 800 crore and has been using the same, which becomes an offence under Section 3 of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), 2002, the sources further said.
“This is the focus of our investigation,” they added.
Section 3 of the PMLA says that whosoever directly or indirectly attempts to “indulge or knowingly assists or knowingly is a party or is actually involved in any process or activity connected with proceeds of crime and projecting it as untainted property, shall be guilty of the offence of money laundering”.
The ED sources also said that the offence of money laundering is made out if any person is directly or indirectly, knowingly involved with a property which is obtained as a result of a criminal activity as defined in the PMLA — in this case, properties with Young Indian.
According to the sources, AJL has properties in Mumbai, Panchkula, Bhopal, Indore and Delhi that are being used to generate revenue.
In 2012, BJP MP Subramanian Swamy filed a complaint before a trial court in Delhi, calling into question transactions allegedly made by Sonia and Rahul involving the National Herald.
Allegations levelled against the Gandhis prompted the income tax department to launch a probe into the matter. The Delhi trial court issued summons for trial to Sonia and Rahul, and both were then granted bail in 2015.
As Sonia was called in for questioning, the Congress announced a nationwide protest.
While a car was set on fire allegedly by Youth Congress workers, in front of the ED office at Shantinagar in Bengaluru, leaders of 13 political parties gathered at the Parliament House, condemning ED action and disrupting proceedings.
Opposition parties also issued a joint statement in support of the Congress president.
(Edited by Gitanjali Das)