Key facts about National Herald case

  • HT Correspondent, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Dec 19, 2015 16:13 IST
Congress president Sonia Gandhi and party vice-president Rahul Gandhi were granted bail by a trial court on Saturday in the National Herald case. (Reuters)

Congress president Sonia Gandhi and party vice-president Rahul Gandhi were granted bail by a trial court on Saturday in the National Herald case.

Apart from the Gandhis, Congress treasurer Motilal Vora, general secretary Oscar Fernandes, journalist Suman Dubey and technocrat Sam Pitroda have also been summoned on a complaint of cheating and misappropriation of funds filed by BJP leader Subramanian Swamy.

Here is all about the case that has disrupted Parliament and will see the top two Congress leaders appear in court:

1. Former prime minister Jawahar Lal Nehru started the National Herald newspaper in 1938 during the freedom struggle. The paper, which originally served as a mouthpiece of the Congress, was published by The Associated Journals Limited (AJL). Over the decades circulation dropped and finances dried out, before it finally closed in 2008 with a debt of Rs 90 crore. After that, AJL became a real estate firm with properties in Delhi, Lucknow and Mumbai.

2. In a bid to keep AJL afloat, the Congress party gave the company unsecured, interest-free loans for some years up to 2010. On November 23, 2010, AJL was taken over by a newly-floated company called Young Indian Private Limited (YIL) with Gandhi family loyalists Dubey and Pitroda as directors. The All India Congress Committee (AICC) decided to assign the nearly Rs 90 crore debt it was owed by AJL to YIL, thus making it the owner of the debt in the books.

3. In December 2010, AJL decided to transfer its entire equity to Young Indian in lieu of YIL owning its Rs 90 crore debt. Young Indian paid Rs 50 lakh for this acquisition. AJL, which originally owed Rs 90 crore to the Congress party, became a fully-owned subsidiary of Young Indian by virtue of this decision and transaction.

On December 13, 2010, Rahul was appointed as its director. On January 22, 2011, Sonia also joined the board as a director. Vora and Fernandes too were appointed to the Young Indian board on the same day. Documents say Sonia and Rahul have individual shareholdings of 38% each in the company. Vora and Fernandes hold the remaining 24% in equal parts.

4. In 2012, Swamy filed a complaint before the trial court alleging that Congress leaders were involved in cheating and breach of trust in the acquisition of AJL by Young Indian Pvt Ltd, as assets worth crores of rupees had been transferred to YIL. Swamy alleged that YIL had “taken over” over the assets of the defunct print media outlet in a “malicious” manner to gain profit and assets worth over Rs 2,000 crore.

5. Swamy has alleged that YIL had paid just Rs 50 lakh to obtain the right to recover Rs 90.25 crore that AJL had owed to the Congress party, given earlier as a loan to start the newspaper. The complaint has also alleged that the loan given to AJL was “illegal”, as it had been taken from party funds as the Representation of the People Act, 1950, does not allow a political party to give a loan.

6. The court had examined four complainant witnesses - Swamy, R Venkatesh, practising chartered accountant, Gulab Chand, an official from the Office of the Registrar of Companies, NCT of Delhi and Haryana, and J Gopikrishnan, journalist with The Pioneer - during the pre-summoning stage. The pre-summoning evidence was closed and arguments were heard on the point of summoning of those named in the complaint. On June 26, 2014, the court summoned Sonia, Rahul, Vora, Fernandes, Dubey and Pitroda.

7. Metropolitan magistrate Gomati Manocha, while summoning them, said that from the complaint and the evidence so far, “it appears that YIL was in fact created as a sham or a cloak to convert public money to personal use” in order to acquire control over Rs 2,000 crore worth of assets of AJL. The court noted that all accused persons had allegedly acted “in consortium with each other to achieve the said nefarious purpose/design”.

8. However, the court had noted that this was “only the stage of summoning”, and when the accused persons appear before the court, “they shall be at liberty to refute the allegations of the complainant, cross-examine the complainant’s witnesses, and to lead evidence in their defence.” The trial court had asked all accused to appear before it on August 7, 2014.

9. The Congress leaders moved the high court on July 30, 2014, which stayed the summons. The Congress maintained that YIL was created “with the aim of charity” and not for profit. It claimed there was “no illegality” in the transaction, as it was “merely a commercial transaction” for transferring shares of the company. It also raised objections to the complaint filed by Swamy, labelling it as “politically motivated”.

10. The bench dismissed the appeals filed by the Congress leaders, observing that prima facie the case “evidenced criminality”. The judgment of the high court noted that the “probity of the legendary national political party” was “at stake” in the case, as the office bearers of the party held the funds in trust. The court has also raised questions regarding the legality of the initial loan granted to AJL by the Congress party. The HC observed that office bearers of the Congress were directors at AJL, and also the majority shareholders at YIL, while all decisions were taken without the involvement of the other shareholders of AJL.

11. It has said that questions including reasons for grant of loan to AJL, modus operandi of the transfer of the loan to YIL, and the related transactions would have to be examined minutely by the trial court. It has also dismissed the objections raised against Swamy’s involvement, stating that locus standi “cannot be restricted” in corruption cases.

12. The court has asked several questions over the acquisition of AJL by Young Indian. It has asked why was YIL assigned AJL’s debt of Rs 90 crore to the Congress party and why didn’t AJL utilise a part of its assets to repay the debt.

13. Did AJL take approval from its 1,057 shareholders for the induction of Young Indian as its majority acquirer? Whether its assets were fairly valued before handing over the equity for a consideration of just Rs 90 crore (debt), and an additional payment of Rs 50 lakh.

14. Is there a conflict of interest in Vora holding important positions in all the three entities involved — as AICC treasurer, AJL CMD, and a 12% shareholder and director at Young Indian?

15. How did the Congress party offer a loan to AJL when the Representation of the People Act, 1950, does not allow a political party to give a loan?

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