The tiol Herald Scam
At a time when disruptions of Parliament had almost tapered out and it was getting ready to do serious business, the tiol Herald swindle hit the headlines. On Monday, the Delhi High Court found prima facie evidence of “crimil intent” against Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, who had been accused of fraudulently acquiring the defunct newspaper tiol Herald, and dismissed their plea challenging a trial court’s summons. Denying that this was a political setback for the party, the Congress geared up to move the Supreme Court on Tuesday to have the order of the single-judge bench stayed. The situation on Monday was that Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and five other accused, mely, Motilal Vora, Oscar Ferndes, Suman Dubey, Sam Pitroda and Young India Limited, were to appear in the trial court on whose August 2014 summons the Delhi High Court refused any further stay. And obviously anticipating that the accused would approach the Supreme Court for relief, complaint Subramanian Swamy had already moved a caveat in the Supreme Court pleading that he be heard before any order was passed.
Justice Sunil Gaur said in his verdict: “This court is of the considered view that the gravity of the allegations levelled against the petitioners has a fraudulent flavour involving a tiol political party and so, serious imputations smacking of crimility levelled against the petitioners need to be properly looked into.” Subramanian Swami had alleged that Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, through the company Young India Limited they had floated, had acquired the daily, whose assets he claimed were worth Rs 5,000 crore, by paying just Rs 50 lakh from the Congress’ funds. According to Swamy, the publisher, Associated Jourls Limited (AJL), had closed its operations in 2008 with an unpaid debt of Rs 90 crore, and that Young India (YI) gave it an interest free loan to clear its debts, although the company could have done so by selling a part of its huge assets. Sonia and Rahul Gandhi are among the directors of YI. Motilal Vora, the Congress treasurer, was maging director of AJL, and later became a shareholder of YI. According to Swamy, YI acquired all the equity in AJL, and rented out its properties to benefit its shareholders, including Rahul and Sonia Gandhi who together are said to control 76 per cent stake.
Justice Gaur has assessed the worth of AJL’s assets at Rs 2,000 crore. He has said: “This court finds no hesitation to put it on record that the modus operandi adopted by the petitioners in taking control of AJL, via a special purpose vehicle, i.e. YI, particularly, when the main persons in the Congress party, AJL and YI are the same, evidences a crimil intent... Questioble conduct of the petitioners needs to be properly examined at the charge stage to find out the truth and so, these crimil proceedings cannot be thwarted at this initial stage.” He added: “However, it has to be kept in mind that the allegations against the office-bearers of the Congress party are of siphoning off the party funds in a clandestine manner. What crops up in the mind of a prudent person is as to where was the need of extending interest-free loans to a public limited company engaged in a commercial venture of publishing newspapers... Considering the fact that the AJL, has sizeable assets of Rs 2,000 crore, it needs to be explained by the petitioners as to what was the need to assign the huge debt of Rs 90 crore when this debt could have been easily liquidated by AJL from its sizeable assets. Even writing off such a huge debt by the Congress party can definitely attract allegations of cheating, fraud, etc. The petitioners had gone a step further in conspiring to get this huge debt assigned to a special purpose vehicle, i.e. YI and, thereafter, to hijack AJL via YI.” He raised the question as to whether this was not crimil misappropriation of the Congress party’s funds. “It also needs to be examined at this pre-charge stage as to whether lakhs of citizens who had doted to the Congress party felt cheated by assignment of such a huge debt to YI who was maged by none others than the petitioners, who were office- bearers of the Congress party as well as directors of YI,” he said. “Not only this, the main persons, who were instrumental in allegedly siphoning off political funds were the recipients of the assignment of the huge debt by the Congress party and they were the same persons who had clandestinely acquired the control of AJL. All this smacks of crimility.”
All that the court is trying to do is to get Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi to appear in court and answer questions related to the takeover of AJL by YI, the interest-free loan that YI gave to AJL to clear its debts and so on. No one can be permitted to seek exemption from such questioning, especially when serious crimes are alleged to have been committed. It will not do for the Congress to turn such a matter into a political issue and to talk about political vendetta being at the root of the predicament that Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi find themselves in because of deeds that are questioble. After all, the assets of AJL could not have been automatically inherited by Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, and therefore, the creation of YI to take over the assets of AJL was patently a questioble move to acquire a huge property to which the two had no legal right. What is much worse, however, is that the business of the Rajya Sabha should have been completely disrupted for three days merely over the issue of court summonses over which the Rajya Sabha has no control. And Sonia Gandhi’s statement that she is the daughter-in-law of Indira Gandhi is in poor taste because Indira Gandhi is not being charged. In the last few days, the country has witnessed the depths to which the beleaguered Congress party can descend just because its leaders find themselves in hot water. The tion should firmly indicate that it will not tolerate the politicization of private problems arising from crimil activities in Parliament.