NEW DELHI: After more than four hours of questioning in the first round on day-two, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) has begun its second round of quizzing with senior Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Tuesday in connection with an alleged money laundering case related to the National Herald newspaper.
The 51-year-old former Congress president this time was accompanied by a lawyer with him when he deposed before the investigators of the federal agency at 4.34 pm after 80 minutes' lunch break.
The Lok Sabha member from Wayanad in Kerala was questioned till 3.15 pm from 11.07 am when he appeared before the ED headquarters to join the investigation in the case.
The ED had also questioned Rahul Gandhi for over 10 hours on Monday. As per official sources, the Congress leader, a Z+ category protectee of the Central Reserve Police Force after the Union government withdrew the Gandhi family's Special Protection Group cover in 2019, was confronted with several documents collated by the ED as evidence recovered so far in the case to get his version.
Rahul Gandhi was questioned in detail about the ownership of Young Indian Private Limited (YIL) by the Gandhi family and its shareholding pattern in Associated Journals Limited (AJL), the company that runs the National Herald newspaper, said sources. Investigators in the ED, sources said, have also asked Rahul Gandhi to describe the circumstances under which AJL was acquired by YIL in 2010, making it the owner of all assets owned by the National Herald newspaper.
The National Herald, started by India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, was published by the AJL. In 2010, the AJL, which faced financial difficulties, was taken over by a newly-floated YIL with Suman Dubey and Sam Pitroda as directors, both of them Gandhi loyalists. In a complaint in the Delhi High Court, Bharatiya Janata Party leader Subramanian Swamy accused Sonia Gandhi and her son, Rahul Gandhi, and others of conspiring to cheat and misappropriate funds.
Officials familiar with the probe said Rahul Gandhi is being asked questions about the takeover of the AJL by YIL since the Gandhis have stakes in the latter.
The Congress leader is being questioned under criminal sections of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA). The ED is also learnt to have recorded statement of Rahul Gandhi to know about the incorporation of the YIL, the operations of the National Herald and the fund transfer within the news media establishment.
The ED is also investigating the financial transactions as well as role of party functionaries in the functioning of AJL and YIL. National Herald is published by the Associated AJL and owned by YIL. It is also learnt that the ED will take written statement of Rahul Gandhi statement under Section 50 of the PMLA.
Congress leaders including Mallikarjun Kharge and Pawan Bansal were earlier questioned in the case. Rahul Gandhi's mother Sonia Gandhi is scheduled to appear before the ED on June 23. She was admitted on Sunday to the Ganga Ram Hospital following post-Covid complications.
There are allegations that AJL was founded in 1930s to print National Herald and had 5,000 freedom fighters as shareholders.
AJL is now in Gandhi family ownership. AJL declared in 2008 that it won't print newspapers anymore and will enter real estate. In 2010, a new firm called YIL is incorporated with Rs 5 lakh and with Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi among other Congress leaders as directors. It pledges to do charity but does none till 2016, as per allegations.
It is also alleged that AJL's 9 crore shares (99 pc of all) are transferred to YIL, and that Rahul Gandhi alone holds 75 per cent shares while Sonia and other senior Congress own the rest. There is another set of allegations that Congress gave AJL Rs 90 crore loan which Congress writes off in lieu of alleged ownership of AJL assets worth Rs 2,000 crore.
However, Congress claims that loan was given to pay salaries of AJL staffers and to save National Herald, and that YIL is a not for profit company and its ownership still vests with AJL.
"YIL can't pay dividends to shareholders and not a penny has moved. How can there be money laundering without any money changing hands."
Rahul Gandhi, who appeared before the ED for the first time for questioning on Monday, was accompanied by a battery of leaders, including sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and escorted by armed CRPF personnel.
He was questioned till around 11.34 pm from 11 am which included an 80-minute break. The case to investigate alleged financial irregularities under the PMLA was registered about nine months ago after a trial court took cognisance of an Income Tax Department probe carried out on the basis of a private criminal complaint filed by BJP leader and former Rajya Sabha MP Subramanian Swamy in 2013.
Swamy had approached the court alleging that the assets of AJL were fraudulently acquired and transferred to YIL, in which Sonia Gandhi and her son owned 38 per cent shares each.
The YIL promoters include Congress President Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi. Swamy had alleged that the Gandhis cheated and misappropriated funds, with YIL paying only Rs 50 lakh to obtain the right to recover Rs 90.25 crore that AJL owed to the Congress. The Congress argued that YIL was a not-for-profit company under Section 25 of the Companies Act, 1956 that can neither accumulate profits nor pay dividends to its shareholders. Calling it a case of political vendetta, senior Supreme Court advocate and Congress leader Abhishek Singhvi had said, "This is truly a very weird case -- an alleged money laundering case on which summons are issued with no money involved."
The federal agency's move followed the questioning of senior Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge and Congress Treasurer Pawan Bansal in April this year in New Delhi in connection with its money laundering probe into the National Herald case.
The agency then recorded the statements of both the Congress leaders then under the PMLA. While Kharge is the CEO of YIL, Bansal is the Managing Director of AJL. All roads leading to the ED office in central Delhi are still barricaded by the police amid heavy deployment of Rapid Action Force personnel and Delhi Police.
The Delhi Police has imposed provisions of Section 144 CrPC to prohibit assembly and entry of people on roads leading to the ED headquarters in Pravaratan Bhawan on A P J Abdul Kalam Road where some youth Congress workers protested and scuffled with police while trying to push barricades a few minutes after Rahul Gandhi joined the probe on Tuesday. The police detained all the protesters and bundled them in separate buses to take them away from Central Delhi.