AS ENFORCEMENT Directorate questioned Congress MP Rahul Gandhi for the fifth day on Tuesday in connection with the National Herald case, sources in the agency said the questioning was still continuing for several reasons, including Rahul’s inability to answer how Congress gave a loan to Associate Journals Limited (AJL) and if there was any evidence of it.
The sources said while Congress has been claiming that AJL, publisher of the National Herald newspaper, was given a loan of over Rs 90 crore over a period of time and to offset it the AJL converted its debt into equity and sold it to Young Indian, owned by the Gandhis, no Congress leader questioned by the agency has so far been able to provide evidence.
The agency earlier questioned Congress leaders Mallikarjun Kharge and Pawan Bansal in connection with the case.
“We have been asking all Congress leaders to give us the cheque numbers through which these payments were made or bank statements that show these payments. However, no one, including Rahul, seems to be aware of anything. No one is even saying that there was any cash payment. In the books of AJL, it is not clearly spelt out and is mentioned only as a general entry,” an ED official said.
AICC spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi criticised the ED for dragging Rahul’s questioning for days. “Firstly, selective oral unofficial leaks should never be resorted to by an agency to spread misinformation. Secondly, it is absurd to suggest that till the investigator gets the answer he wants to hear he will continue interrogations. Thirdly, this case cannot raise more than a finite five to seven questions. And if each question is asked in five different ways, even then the interrogation cannot last more than one day.”
Notably, there are questions around the loan given by the All India Congress Committee (AICC) to AJL as a political party is not allowed to give loans under the Representation of the People Act.
This issue had also been deliberated upon during investigations by the Income Tax department. The I-T Department had in its report called payments claimed by the Congress as “alleged loan” as there was no evidence of any payment.
It said it had issued notices to AICC “to obtain evidence relating to time, mode, manner of advancing loans and nature of fund out of which these loans were advanced …However, no clarification or evidence was submitted to prove that the alleged loan of Rs 90.21 crore was actually advanced by the AICC to the AJL.”
ED sources said the contention of the Congress that the agency had filed a money laundering case without any predicate offence was misplaced. Officials said when the court had already taken cognizance of the offence and the Gandhis were out on bail in the matter, the need for another agency to register an FIR was not required.
“Delhi Metropolitan Magistrate’s Court has already taken cognizance of the offences under Sections 403, 406, 420, 120B of the Indian Penal Code and issued summons to Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and others, who are currently on bail. The appeal of the Gandhi family against the magistrate’s judgment before Delhi High Court has been dismissed and Supreme Court too has dismissed their appeal. The offence under Sections 420 and 120B are the scheduled offence under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act. Thus, all conditions required for registering a money laundering case have been satisfied,” a senior ED official said.
The ED officials also rejected Congress defence that Young Indian was a non-profit organisation and so there was no question of making money and laundering money. “Young Indian is not carrying out any charitable activity since 2010 and has been engaged in commercial business. It has taken over AJL properties worth more than Rs 800 crore and has been earning rent on them. Thus, the claim that even if the properties were fraudulently taken over, the benefit will go for charitable purpose is an untenable argument,” an official said.