New Delhi, June 26: Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi were today issued summons by a Delhi court that said a prima facie case of cheating and misappropriation of property could be made out against them.
Issuing the summons to appear on August 7 on a criminal complaint filed by BJP leader Subramanian Swamy, metropolitan magistrate Gomati Manocha said: “The complainant has established a prima facie case against the accused under Section 403 (dishonest misappropriation of property), 406 (criminal breach of trust) and 420 (cheating) read with Section 120B (criminal conspiracy) of IPC.”
Swamy had filed the complaint last year against the Congress granting an interest-free loan of Rs 50 lakh to a company, Young Indian Ltd, to acquire Associated Journals Ltd, the publisher of the now-defunct National Herald newspaper. Sonia and Rahul hold 76 per cent stake in the venture.
The judge said: “From the complaint and evidence led so far it appears YI (Young Indian) was in fact created as a sham or a cloak to convert public money to personal use or as a special purpose vehicle for acquiring control over Rs 2,000 crore worth of assets.”
Summons were also issued to Motilal Vora, Oscar Fernandes, Suman Dubey and Sam Pitroda, the other directors of Young Indian.
Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said Swamy’s charges were “purely motivated, malicious and mischievous”. He added: “Swamy and the BJP must understand that neither the Nehru-Gandhi family nor the Congress will get cowed down by such revengeful witch-hunts. We have not received any summons so far. The party and Congress leaders will take appropriate action after taking necessary legal advice.”
Another spokesperson and a senior lawyer, Abhishek Singhvi, said: “Issuance of process over a stale complaint is not something to be excited about. Let’s seek comprehensive legal advice and you will see how all the allegations are legally demolished.”
A comprehensive and point-by-point response would be made once the summonses were received, he said. “The response will conclusively demonstrate that falsehoods and distortions are the basis of the complaint. It will be established that even if the complaint as drafted is taken at face value, it does not disclose any offence whatsoever and ought to be rejected/quashed at the threshold,” Singhvi said.
But Swamy, who asked the finance minister to initiate an income tax investigation, said: “There was a serious breach of trust. If proven guilty, she could be jailed for seven years. They will have to face trial. They have been summoned as accused.”
Swamy had filed the case in 2013, prompting Rahul Gandhi to file a defamation suit against him, which was not followed up.
In a letter to Swamy, Rahul described the allegations as “utterly false, entirely baseless and defamatory”. He added: “We shall pursue the legal remedies open to us against the utterly motivated and irresponsible contents of your press conference, and we shall pursue all proceedings that are available in law to ensure that an individual like you and an organisation like yours do not abuse the freedom to speak and write in utter violation of the equally important need in a civilised society to maintain the dignity of individuals and organisations and to abide by the law of the country.”
Swamy had alleged that the Congress’s interest-free loan violated the Income Tax Act as political parties received tax exemption.
At that time, party general secretary Janardan Dwivedi had said: “The Indian National Congress has done its duty in supporting Associated Journals Limited to help initiate a process to bring the newspaper back to health in compliance with the laws of the land.”
Dwivedi said this support was extended by the Congress in the form of interest-free loans from which no commercial profit has accrued.
Associated Journals was floated by Jawaharlal Nehru to publish the National Herald and included senior Congress leaders as trust members.
Young Indian was formed on November 23, 2010, and registered under Section 25 of the Companies Act, 1956. It lists its address as 5A Herald House, Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg, New Delhi, the office of the National Herald.
Besides Sonia and Rahul, the shareholders include Congress treasurer Motilal Vora, who is also the chairman-cum-managing director of Associated Journals, and party general secretary Oscar Fernandes. Journalist Suman Dubey has been designated as managing committee member while technocrat Sam Pitroda is a member.
Swamy had accused Sonia, Rahul and others of conspiring to cheat and misappropriate funds by just paying Rs 50 lakh by which Young Indian obtained the right to recover Rs 90.25 crore which Associated Journals owed the Congress party. He alleged that over Rs 2,000 crore worth of assets also got transferred to Young Indian.
The court said the accused were office-bearers and trustees of the funds of the Congress and these funds were not their personal property. “The funds entrusted to them by the party were to be utilised to advance the purposes for which the Congress party was formed.... These funds could not have been advanced in the form of an interest-free loan to AJL, as no provisions exist in the Representation of the People Act or the constitution of the party permitting grant of any such loan to a company engaged in commercial activities,” the court said.