ED summons Sonia, Rahul for questioning

As the Enforcement Directorate (ED) summoned Congress president Sonia Gandhi and former party chief Rahul Gandhi for questioning in a money laundering case involving the National Herald newspaper, the Congress on Wednesday alleged that the summons reeked of “vendetta, pettiness and cheap politics”.

While Ms. Gandhi, 75, has been asked to appear before the agency on June 8, the former Congress chief has been asked to depose on Thursday. Mr. Gandhi, 51, is likely to seek time from the agency as he is out of the country and is likely to return only by June 5.

The ED summons is said to have been served on the Gandhis a few days earlier, but the Congress went public about it only on Wednesday.

“The honourable Congress president will definitely go and Rahulji will go if he is here, or else, will seek time for a fresh date,” Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi, along with chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala, said at a press conference.

“This is truly a very weird case, an alleged money laundering case on which summons are issued with no money involved,” Mr. Singhvi added

Hitting back at the Congress, BJP president J.P. Nadda told presspersons in Bhopal, “Does a criminal ever say that he is dishonest. Even when they spend 10-20 years in jail, they keep saying they have been framed.”

“If a chargesheet has been filed against you, you should approach the court to get it quashed if you are honest. One who isn’t honest seeks bail,” Mr. Nadda noted.

The case to investigate alleged financial irregularities of Congress-promoted Young Indian, which owns National Herald, under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act was registered about nine months ago, an official said.

The ED’s decision was based on a trial court taking cognisance of an Income Tax Department probe against Young Indian Private Ltd. on the basis of a private criminal complaint filed by BJP MP Subramanian Swamy in 2013. The agency now wants to record the statements of the Gandhis under criminal Sections of the PMLA.

ED sources claimed that the questioning of the Gandhis and senior Congress leaders was part of their investigation to understand the share-holding pattern, financial transactions and the role of the promoters of Young Indian and AJL. Ms. Gandhi and her son are among the promoters and shareholders of Young Indian. Last month, the ED had recorded the statement of the Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha and veteran Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge, who is an office bearer of AJL.

The agency also questioned Congress treasurer Pawan Kumar Bansal, who is the managing director of AJL and an additional director in Young Indian.

Earlier, Mr. Swamy had approached the court alleging that AJL assets were fraudulently acquired and transferred to Young Indian.

According to court records, the Congress had loaned about ₹90 crore on interest-free basis to AJL over a period of time.

The party later assigned the debt to Young Indian, in which Ms. Gandhi and her son owned 38% shares each. Young Indian paid ₹50 lakh to the Congress for transferring the ₹90-crore debt to it.

The other accused in this case are author Suman Dubey and technocrat Sam Pitroda.

Countering the charges levelled against the Gandhis, Dr. Singhvi said Young India was registered as a not-for-profit company, under Section 25 of the Companies Act, that can neither pay divided to its shareholders nor accumulate profits. And that is why “objective minds” in the ED had closed the case in 2015.