ED questions Sonia Gandhi for two hours in National Herald case
Sonia Gandhi’s questioning was cut short on Thursday as the 75-year-old leader, who recently recovered from Covid-19 infection, was not feeling well.
Congress interim president Sonia Gandhi on Thursday appeared before the Enforcement Directorate (ED) for questioning in connection with the alleged National Herald money laundering case, while senior party leaders and workers protested in the Lutyens’ Zone, a stark reminder of last month’s scenes when Rahul Gandhi was interrogated by the federal agency.
Rahul and Priyanka by her side, Sonia Gandhi reached the ED office around noon and was questioned for a little over two hours about Associated Journals Limited (AJL), which ran the newspaper, as well as her role in the day-to-day affairs of Young Indian Pvt Ltd (YI), the company that took over AJL. She and Rahul have a majority stake (76%) in YI.
People familiar with the development said Sonia Gandhi’s questioning was kept short as the 75-year-old leader, who recently recovered from Covid-19 infection, was not feeling well.
However, they informed that she was asked 28 questions during her two hours of questioning and she was prompt in answering all of them. The Congress chief has been asked to appear again on Monday.
In view of her age and health, as a special exemption, the ED allowed Priyanka to accompany her mother inside the ED office, albeit away from the interrogation room during the two-hour session. An aide of Priyanka Gandhi said “she was there to assist her mother for medicine and nebulizer which she needs at regular intervals”.
Sonia Gandhi was originally supposed to be questioned in the first week of June but due to her Covid-19 infection, it was postponed to June 23. She sought four weeks’ time from the central agency as she was strictly advised to rest at home following her hospitalisation last month. Her request was accepted by the ED and fresh summons were issued for Thursday.
This is the veteran Congress leader’s first ever questioning by any federal agency.
Earlier, during his questioning for over 10 hours each for five days last month, Rahul Gandhi denied creating any personal assets or for his family from YI, which the Congress has repeatedly claimed was a “not for profit” company.
A second officer cited above said when her questioning resumes, Sonia Gandhi will be asked questions along the lines of – a loan of ₹90.21 crore given by the All-India Congress Committee (AICC) to AJL, transactions related to the development of a property in Mumbai, and YI receiving a loan of ₹1 crore from a Kolkata-based company.
Sonia Gandhi was interrogated by an officer of the rank of assistant director in the federal anti-money laundering probe agency, the same person who interrogated Rahul for five days in June.
ED’s investigations have revealed that YI is not a charity organisation. “Even though YI was registered under Section 25 of the Companies Act, 1956 in November 2010, it has no business or income of its own and has not carried out any charitable activities,” the second officer said.
AJL, incorporated in 1937 by former prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, published the English daily ‘National Herald’, Urdu publication ‘Quami Awaz’ and Hindi publication ‘Navjivan’.
However, due to financial difficulties, the newspaper publication business was shut down in 2008 and drew income from various properties in Delhi, Mumbai, Lucknow, Patna and Panchkula, which were allotted to AJL at nominal rates.
The All India Congress Committee (AICC) advanced loans worth ₹90.21 crore to AJL over a long period of time. In November 2010, Young Indian was incorporated with Gandhi family loyalists Sam Pitroda and Suman Dubey as its founding directors and ₹5 lakh as share capital. However, it received a loan of ₹1 crore from a Kolkata-based company, which the ED is treating as a “shell company”, so that it can enter into a transaction with AICC for the takeover of AJL.
Meanwhile, AJL’s registered office shifted to Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg in Delhi.
It is alleged that YI purchased the ₹90.21 crore interest free loan given by Congress to AJL by making payments of only ₹50 lakh to the AICC. An Income Tax department probe in 2017 found that YI was founded in November 13, 2010, just 23 days prior to assignment of the loan with the two directors.
In the first managing committee meeting of YI on December 13, 2010, Rahul Gandhi was appointed as its director and late Congress leaders Motilal Vora and Oscar Fernandes were made ‘ordinary members’.
After the loan was assigned to YI, it was converted into equity on February 26, 2011 (even when the YI had not paid ₹50 lakh to the AICC), resulting in the holding of 99% of shares. Both Sonia and Rahul are majority shareholders, i.e., 76% of share capital of YI.
Investigators found that AJL has several properties at prime locations in Delhi, Mumbai, Lucknow, Patna and Panchkula worth several hundreds of crores, which also went to YI through acquisition.