In a massive setback to Congress and Gandhi Family, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) has taken action in the Nation Herald case by attaching assets totaling a staggering Rs 751.9 crore. Under the purview of the Money Laundering Act, this action marks a crucial step in the ongoing investigation.
The move is part of the agency’s efforts to address financial irregularities associated with the case, signaling a significant stride forward in the legal proceedings. In a statement issued today, the ED said that it found during investigation involvement of Associated Journals in the crime.
“ED has issued an order to provisionally attach properties worth Rs. 751.9 Crore in a money-laundering case investigated under the PMLA, 2002. Investigation revealed that M/s. Associated Journals Ltd. (AJL) is in possession of proceeds of crime in the form of immovable properties spread across many cities of India such as Delhi, Mumbai and Lucknow to the tune of Rs. 661.69 Crore and M/s. Young Indian (YI) is in possession of proceeds of crime to the tune of Rs. 90.21 Crore in the form of investment in equity shares of AJL,” said the ED.
A provisional order has been issued under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) against the newspaper’s publisher Associated Journals Ltd. and its holding company Young Indian. The ED had earlier questioned and recorded the statements of Congress’ first family Sonia Gandhi, her son Rahul Gandhi and that of president Mallikarjun Kharge in this case.
ED initiated a money-laundering investigation on the basis of a process issued by the Court of Metropolitan Magistrate of Delhi after taking cognizance of a private complaint vide order dated June 26, 2014.
The ED claimed it came to light during investigations that AJL was in possession of proceeds of crime in the form of properties worth Rs 661.69 crore spread across Delhi, Mumbai and Lucknow and YI was in possession of Rs 90.21 crore in the form of investment of equity shares of AJL.
The attached properties included National Herald House in Delhi, Nehru Bhavan in Lucknow and National Herald House in Mumbai, officials said.
The ED had initiated a probe following a court direction on a complaint filed by Subramanian Swamy in 2014 and held prima facie that seven accused committed offences under Indian Penal Code, including criminal breach of trust, cheating and criminal conspiracy, it said in a statement.
The ED had earlier questioned former Congress presidents Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, who are linked to Young Indian, in connection with the case.
Congress cried foul
As expected, the Congress reacted sharply to the development. The Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge said the ED action was a “clear indication of BJP’s panic” and “staring at a defeat” in Assembly polls, it “feels compelled to misuse the agencies”. He said the pattern of misuse of agencies during elections is “not new” and “stands fully exposed”.
The senior MP and lawyer Abhishek Singhvi saying that such “petty vendetta tactics shall not cow down the Congress or the Opposition” and such action reflects the ruling BJP’s “desperation to divert attention from certain defeat in the ongoing elections”.
Congress General Secretary (Organisation) KC Venugopal said the BJP must realize that going after India’s largest Opposition party is “akin to going after Indian democracy”.
What is National Herald Case?
The ED said the court had held that the accused hatched a conspiracy to acquire properties of Associated Journals Limited (AJL), which was publishing Congress mouthpiece National Herald, through a special purpose vehicle Young Indian (YI). AJL, which was given land on concessional rates in various cities but closed its publishing operations in 2008 and started using the properties for commercial purposes, was to repay Rs 90.21 crore to Congress, which treated it as non-recoverable loan and sold it for Rs 50 lakh to YI.
The ED statement said its investigation revealed that after purchasing the loan of Rs 90.21 crore from the Congress, YI demanded either repayment of loan or allotment of equity shares of AJL to it.
It added, the Associated Journals Limited (AJL) held an Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM) and passed a resolution to increase share capital and issue fresh shares worth Rs 90.21 crore to YI. With this fresh allotment of shares, shareholding of more than 1,000 shareholders was reduced to a mere 1% and AJL became a subsidiary company of YI while taking control over properties of AJL, it said.