Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and party vice-president Rahul Gandhi, along with four others, were summoned by a Delhi Court on Thursday for alleged "cheating" and misappropriation of funds to take over assets of the now-defunct National Herald newspaper.
Metropolitan Magistrate Gomati Manocha directed the six accused to appear before it on August 7. The four others include AICC treasurer Moti Lal Vohra, Congress general secretary Oscar Fernandes and Suman Dubey and Sam Pitroda — two directors of Young Indian Private Ltd (YI) — a firm in which Sonia and Rahul Gandhi each own a 38% stake.
In her order on a complaint filed by BJP leader Subramanium Swamy, the magistrate said the firm, YI, appeared to have been "created as a sham or a cloak to convert public money to personal use" or a special purpose vehicle to acquire control over assets worth Rs 2,000 crore of Associated Journals Limited (AJL), the publisher of the National Herald.
Swamy had alleged that AJL had received an interest-free loan of Rs 90.25 crore from the AICC and that the Congress party transferred the debt to YI for Rs 50 lakh.
At the time, AJL — which had Moti Lal Vohra as its chairman — claimed that it could not repay the loan and agreed to transfer the company and its assets to YI.
The court said there was "prima facie evidence" to act on the complaint and summon the accused. All the accused can file anticipatory bail against Thursday’s order or seek regular bail when they appear before it on August 7. They can also challenge the order in a higher court.
The Congress reacted angrily to the development, calling it "a completely false and motivated complaint".
Party spokesman and a senior lawyer Abhishek Manu Singhvi said Swamy was known for his personal, motivated campaign against the Congress. "You can take it that as and when we receive the papers and take full legal advice, a very vigorous response will be filed," he added.
Swamy had alleged the accused incorporated YI in November 2010 with both Sonia and Rahul Gandhi owning 38% shares each. A month later, Swamy claimed, YI's board of directors passed a resolution to "own" AJL's outstanding debt to the AICC.
"The assignment of debt was made for a paltry consideration of Rs 50 lakh by false representation that AJL had no net worth and was unable to re-pay the debt to the Congress," Swamy claimed.
"On February 26, 2011, the accused passed a resolution to convert the loan of Rs 90.25 crore (that had been assigned to YI) into almost all its equity shares thereby vesting in YI, control and indirect ownership of around 99% of AJL and also its real estate worth thousands of crores of rupees," Swamy alleged.
He said AJL had huge assets in New Delhi, Lucknow, Panchkula, Indore and Mumbai.
"The accused clearly acted against the interest of the company as the debt of nearly Rs 90 crores could have easily been paid off by selling or mortgaging some of the assets belonging to the company," the court remarked.