THE ENFORCEMENT Directorate (ED) on Tuesday conducted search operations at Herald House in Delhi among 12 locations in connection with its money laundering probe in the National Herald case. Herald House is the registered office address of Associate Journals Limited (AJL), the National Herald newspaper’s publisher, which is under probe over its acquisition by Young Indian, a firm linked to the Gandhi family.
Sources told The Indian Express that the other locations targeted were mostly “entry operator” firms allegedly linked to Young Indian. The sources did not specify the other locations. Entry operators are firms that help people launder money by making fake financial transaction entries in their ledgers.
The ED move comes after the agency questioned Congress president Sonia Gandhi for three days in connection with the case after questioning Rahul Gandhi for five days, triggering heated protests from Congress leaders and workers. Congress leaders Mallikarjun Kharge and Pawan Bansal have also been questioned.
On Tuesday, the Congress hit out at the Government over the ED move, with the party’s communications in-charge Jairam Ramesh tweeting that it was “part of the continued attack against India’s principal opposition”. “We strongly condemn this vendetta politics against those who speak up against the Modi Government. You cannot silence us!” Ramesh tweeted.
“This is absolute rock bottom for Indian politics. To settle petty personal scores, to intimidate India’s opposition, the Modi Government is doing exactly what the British did during the freedom struggle… the British had banned and had raided National Herald…,” she said.
The ED had questioned the Gandhis about the circumstances under which AJL was acquired by Young Indian in 2010 for a “pittance” making it the owner of all assets owned by the National Herald newspaper.
The raids on Herald House, Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg are a part of the continued attack against India’s principal opposition—Indian National Congress.
We strongly condemn this vendetta politics against those who speak up against the Modi Govt.
You cannot silence us!
— Jairam Ramesh (@Jairam_Ramesh) August 2, 2022
The case is based on a private complaint by BJP’s Subramanian Swamy in a Delhi court in 2013. The complaint had alleged cheating and misappropriation of funds on part of the Gandhis in acquiring the newspaper. Sonia and Rahul were granted bail in the case by the trial court in December 2015.
Swamy’s complaint accused Sonia, Rahul and others of misappropriating funds by allegedly paying Rs 50 lakh for Young Indian to obtain the right to recover Rs 90.25 crore that AJL owed to the Congress.
ED officials have rejected the Congress defence that Young Indian was a non-profit organisation and there was “no question” of making and laundering money.
“Young Indian has not carried 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 purposes is an untenable argument,” an ED official said.
Congress leader Shrinate said that AJL and Young Indian are registered companies and every transaction is in the public domain.
“Young Indian is a no-profit section 25 company. There is no scope of profiteering from that company for any director or shareholder. So what exactly are you looking for? AJL, on the other hand, is a public interest newspaper. It is not a commercial organisation. Every transition is in the public domain. You have questioned the Congress president for three days, you have questioned the former Congress president for 50 hours,” she said.
“From being an independent agency of the Government, it has become a frontal department and election department of the BJP, which is used to intimidate opposition, settle political scores, intimidate their own who could speak against them, and used to topple democratically elected governments” she said.
(With ENS, Delhi)