National Herald case: Rs 90-cr loan claim is focus of ED probe

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AS Office of Enforcement interrogated a member of Congress Rahul Gandhi on the fifth day on Tuesday in connection with the National Herald case, sources at the agency said the interrogation was still ongoing for several reasons, including Rahul’s failure to answer how Congress granted credit to Associate Journals Limited (AJL) and whether there was any proof of it.

Sources said that while Congress claimed that AJL, the publisher of the National Herald newspaper, received a loan of over Rs 90 crore over a period of time, and to offset this, AJL converted its debt into equity and sold it to Young Indian , belongs to Gandhi, no Congressional leader interviewed by the agency has so far been able to provide evidence.

The agency had previously questioned Congress leaders Mallikarjun Kharge and Pawan Bansal in connection with the case.

“We have asked all Congressional leaders to provide us with check numbers through which these payments were made, or bank statements confirming these payments. However, no one, including Rahul, seems to know anything. No one even says that there was a cash payment. In the AJL books, this is not clearly spelled out and is only referred to as a general entry, ”said an ED spokesperson.

AICC spokesman Abhishek Manu Singhvi criticized the ED for dragging out the questioning of Rahul for several days. “First, the agency should never resort to selective word of mouth unofficial leaks to spread misinformation. Secondly, it is absurd to assume that until the investigator receives the answer he wants to hear, he will continue interrogations. Thirdly, this case cannot raise more than five or seven questions. And if each question is asked in five different ways, then even then the interrogation cannot last more than one day.

Notably, there are questions regarding the loan provided by the All India Congress Committee (AICC) to the AJL as a political party is not allowed to make loans under the Representation of the People Act.

This issue was also discussed during the Income Tax Department’s investigation. The Department of Information Technology, in its report, referred to the payments claimed by Congress as a “probable loan” because there was no evidence of any payments.

He stated that he sent notifications to the AICC “in order to obtain evidence regarding the time, manner, method of disbursement of loans and the nature of the funds from which these loans were issued… However, no clarification or evidence was provided to confirm that the alleged loan of Rs 90 .21 crore was actually advanced by AICC to AJL.”

ED sources said the congressional assertion that the agency had filed a money laundering case with no predicate wrongdoing was inappropriate. Officials said that when the court had already ruled on the offense and Gandhi was released on bail, the need for another agency to register FIR was not required.

“The Delhi Metropolitan Magistrates Court has already dealt with the offenses under sections 403, 406, 420, 120B of the Indian Penal Code and sent a summons to Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and others who are currently on bail. The Gandhi family’s appeal against the magistrate’s decision in the Delhi High Court was dismissed and the Supreme Court also dismissed their appeal. The offense under sections 420 and 120B is an offense under the Money Laundering Prevention Act. Thus, all the conditions necessary for registering a money laundering case are met,” said a senior ED official.

ED officials also rejected congressional arguments that Young Indian is a non-profit organization and therefore money making and money laundering is out of the question. “Young Indian has not been involved in any charitable activities since 2010 and is in a commercial business. He has purchased AJL property valued at over Rs 800 crore and earns rent from it. Thus, the assertion that even if the property was seized fraudulently, the profits will go to charitable purposes, is an untenable argument,” the official said.

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