ED questions Rahul for 3rd consecutive day; conducts audio-video recording
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi appeared before the ED on Wednesday for the third consecutive day of questioning in the National Herald money laundering case, with the agency seeking answers about his "personal role" in taking decisions with regard to the media organisation and its owner Young Indian.
Gandhi (51) arrived at the ED headquarters on APJ Abdul Kalam Road in central Delhi around 11.35 am with his "Z+" category CRPF security escort.
He was accompanied by his sister and Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra as his convoy whizzed past police barricades thronged by media persons and party supporters.
A huge contingent of police and paramilitary personnel has been deployed around the federal agency's office, and prohibitory orders under section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) are in force.
The questioning began at 12 noon and the ED has been conducting a video and audio recording of the statement of Gandhi during all the three days' sessions.
His statements are being typed on A4 size papers and are minutely reviewed by him and signed before submission to the investigating officer.
Gandhi, agency sources told PTI, is being asked about the assets worth about Rs 800 crore "owned" by AJL and how a not-for-profit company like Young Indian (YI) was undertaking commercial activities of renting out its land and building assets.
The Congress party has claimed that there was no FIR or scheduled offence in this case, on the basis of which a PMLA case was filed and Gandhi and his mother Congress president were summoned.
Officials said the ED action is on a "higher pedestal than that of proceedings undertaken on the basis of the FIR" as the court has taken cognisance of the Income Tax department charge sheet filed in the case and issued process.
They said sections 120B (criminal conspiracy) and 420 (cheating) of the IPC applied in the I-T case are "predicate offences" that enable the ED to register a money laundering case.
ED investigators said the offence of money laundering as defined under section 3 of the PMLA is being applied by the ED to probe the role of Gandhi in this entire case where "while there is no movement of cash but the proceeds of crime have been generated and some people have benefitted from them".
Section 3 of the PMLA says whosoever directly or indirectly attempts to indulge or knowingly assists or knowingly is a party or is actually involved in any process or activity connected with proceeds of crime and projecting it as untainted property shall be guilty of the offence of money laundering.
Officials also counter the claim of the Congress party and even Gandhi who have maintained that YI was a non-profit company and no one can enjoy personal funds or shares of the company.
Violation of any law is an offence and in this case the I-T department's chargesheet and the PMLA enforcement case information report (ECIR) indicate that the provisions of a not-for-profit company have been violated, officials said.
Gandhi has clocked over 24 hours in multiple question and answer sessions over the last two days at the ED office.
Officials said Gandhi's questioning could not be completed on Tuesday, and hence, he was asked to continue the recording of his statement on Wednesday.
About 15-16 questions about the incorporation of the YI company, the operations of the National Herald newspaper, the loan given by the Congress to the Associated Journals Limited (AJL) and the funds transfer within the news media establishment have been put to Gandhi during the questioning held till now, sources indicated.
They said the role of Gandhi and his detailed statement in the case is vital as he is a "major shareholder" in YI and "important person" in the AJL and National Herald affairs.
It is understood that the agency has put across questions to him about the assets owned by AJL.
Gandhi is also understood to have been asked about a loan of Rs 1 crore taken by YI from a Kolkata-based company in February 2011 and the rationale behind it.
The questions put to Gandhi, the sources indicated, start from the year 2011 when YI was incorporated. It has also been learnt that the questions cover the changes that took place in the shareholding pattern of the company after that, the procedures followed, and the salaries and VRS given to journalists working in the organisation among other issues.
The Congress has denied any wrongdoing in the case, saying YI is a non-profit company established under section 25 of the Companies Act.
The party said AJL, which was established in 1937, faced huge debts and the Congress, from 2002 to 2011, gave Rs 90 crore to the National Herald newspaper, out of which Rs 66 crore was used to pay the salaries/VRS of the journalists and staffers who worked there.
The rest of the money was given to the government as pending lease amount for the assets held by AJL, its electricity and building expenses and house tax, Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said.
Congress leaders Mallikarjun Kharge and Pawan Bansal were questioned in this case recently, and Kharge said he gave "evidence" to the agency during his questioning.
The probe pertains to alleged financial irregularities in the Congress-promoted Young Indian Private Limited, which owns the National Herald newspaper.
The newspaper is published by the AJL and owned by Young Indian Private Limited.
Rahul Gandhi's mother and Congress president Sonia Gandhi, who is currently admitted to a hospital here due to Covid-related issues, has also been summoned by the agency for questioning in the case on June 23.
The ED recently registered a fresh case under the criminal provisions of the PMLA after a trial court here took cognisance of an Income-Tax department probe against YI on the basis of a private criminal complaint filed by BJP MP Subramanian Swamy in 2013.
Sonia and Rahul Gandhi are among the promoters and shareholders of Young Indian.
Swamy had accused Sonia and Rahul Gandhi and others of conspiring to cheat and misappropriate funds, with YI paying only Rs 50 lakh to obtain the right to recover Rs 90.25 crore that AJL owed to the Congress.
In February last year, the Delhi High Court issued a notice to the Gandhis for their response on Swamy's plea, seeking to lead evidence in the matter before the trial court.
The Gandhis had secured separate bails from the court in 2015 after they furnished personal bonds of Rs 50,000 and one surety.
They, however, had contended in the high court that Swamy's plea was "misconceived and premature".