Congress president Sonia Gandhi as well as her son and deputy, Rahul Gandhi, may have to appear before a trial court on Tuesday to face allegations that they illegally acquired property worth crores belonging to the National Herald newspaper after the Delhi high court refused to grant them relief.
The HC dismissed on Monday their pleas against the summons and also declined to grant them exemption from personal appearance before the trial court in a decision that could blunt the opposition party’s attacks on the government in Parliament over a slew of issues.
This means the two top Congress leaders will have to show up before the trial court unless the Supreme Court provides them relief.
“…this Court finds that the ingredients of the offences alleged are not lacking and sufficient ground to proceed against petitioners certainly exists,” said justice Sunil Gaur of the high court.
The summoning order was passed on a petition by BJP leader Subramanian Swamy, who alleged cheating and breach of trust in the acquisition of Associated Journals Limited (AJL) – the publisher of National Herald – by a company called Young India Limited (YIL), in which the Gandhis reportedly hold shares.
The Congress said it would challenge the order before the apex court and claimed on Twitter that as part of the BJP’s “petty vendetta politics”, a “completely misconceived” private complaint was instituted by Swamy.
“We have an open and shut case. There have been several legal deficiencies. We have unassailable arguments,” said Congress spokesperson and senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi.
Started in 1938 by Jawaharlal Nehru, the National Herald’s circulation and financial health steadily deteriorated over decades, leading to its closure in 2008 with a debt of Rs 90 crore on its head.
Swamy accused the Congress of loaning this money to AJL and then assigning the debt to YIL for Rs 50 lakh – a transaction that the BJP leader said amounted to cheating and a breach of trust.
The National Herald building in New Delhi is prime real estate, which was leased out for commercial purposes and AJL is receiving rental of Rs 60 lakh per month for this property alone. AJL also has real estate assets of at least Rs 2,000 crore in posh areas of New Delhi and several other places, Swamy claimed.
“This is what happens when you buy such a huge property for a pittance,” BJP spokesperson Shahnawaz Hussain told reporters, as he also took a dig at the Congress president who returned from the US on Monday after a medical check-up. “Law is equal to the common man and Sonia Gandhi. They cannot hide from it.”