Stating that “at this stage, without evidence, charges cannot be serious in magnitude”, the Delhi trial court on Saturday granted bail to Congress president Sonia Gandhi, vice-president Rahul Gandhi and three other accused who appeared before it in the National Herald case.
“Accused are reputed persons having deep roots in the society and… can be granted bail,” Metropolitan Magistrate Lovleen ordered, while granting bail on a personal bond of Rs 50,000 and a surety each to Sonia, Rahul, AICC treasurer Motilal Vohra, Congress general secretary Oscar Fernandes and Suman Dubey.
Speaking to reporters after the proceedings, complainant and BJP leader Subramanian Swamy said, “I will win this case in 2016. Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and others will be sent to prison. It is an open-and-shut case based on documents and not witnesses.”
Saturday’s proceedings came after the Delhi High Court rejected the Gandhis’ plea challenging the trial court summons issued against them in the case. The trial court had summoned them and the others taking cognisance of the criminal complaint filed by Swamy, levelling charges of criminal conspiracy, cheating, criminal breach of trust and misappropriation of funds by them in taking control of the now-defunct National Herald newspaper.
At 2.13 pm on Saturday, close Gandhi family aide Ahmed Patel submitted the list of persons who would stand surety for the accused to the Special Protection Group (SPG), guarding the court. “Five inside, five outside,” he whispered to the SPG. Patel was accompanied by Congress leader and senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi.
Thirteen minutes later, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra was the first Gandhi family member to enter the 20X20 sq ft Court No. 7, in the main building of the Patiala House Courts Complex, nearly half an hour ahead of the scheduled 3 pm hearing. She came to the court with former Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit, Ambika Sonia and Kumari Selja, and they sat in the second row in the courtroom.
At 2:38 pm, former prime minister Manmohan Singh arrived, standing in the extreme left in the first row.
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Sonia and Rahul followed around 10 minutes later, taking positions at the extreme right in the front row. The two did not exchange a single word inside the court. Oscar Fernandes stood behind them.
The proceedings began at 2.51 pm, with the magistrate asking the defence counsel if all the accused were present. Counsel for Sam Pitroda sought exemption on health grounds, which the court granted.
After this, Congress leader and senior advocate Kapil Sibal moved the plea for bail. He told the court that summons had been issued based on a private criminal complaint, due to which they expected a longer trial and hence should be granted bail.
Seven minutes into the proceedings, the court granted bail on a bond of Rs 50,000 and directed them to appear before it on February 20 in the case.
The maiden court appearance of the two senior Congress leaders was turned into a marquee event by the Congress. Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge was present, as were Meira Kumar, A K Antony and Ghulam Nabi Azad.
As part of his arguments, Sibal said the accused, including the Gandhis, have “deep roots in society” and had appeared before the court without seeking any exemption. Noting that the entire case was based on documentary evidence, he said there no scope of either tampering with it or influencing any witnesses.
When Sibal argued that Swamy had not submitted the list of documents he was relying upon in the case nor the list of witnesses, the court asked Swamy to share copies of the papers within a month. February 20 was fixed for recording pre-charge evidence in the matter.
When Swamy asked the court to impose restrictions on Gandhis traveling abroad, Sibal said, “Bail plea is between the court and the accused in a private criminal complaint. Where is the role of apprehension of the complainant?”
Telling Swamy his plea was rejected, the court said, “They (the Gandhis) have deep roots in society as they belong to one of the oldest political parties in the country.”
Antony and Priyanka stood surety for Sonia and Rahul respectively, Congress leader B K Hariprasad stood surety for Motilal Vohra, Ajay Maken for Suman Dubey and Ghulam Nabi Azad for Oscar Fernandes.