In a setback to the Congress, the Adjudicating Authority under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) has given the green signal for the Enforcement Directorate (ED) to take possession of a plot in Haryana belonging to Associate Journals Limited (AJL), publisher of National Herald, a newspaper promoted by the party.
The authority endorsed the ED’s move last year to attach the property — Plot No C-17, Sector 6, Panchkula. AJL can challenge this order in a higher court.
The ED had provisionally attached the property on December 1, 2018, while citing investigations to claim that it had been “illegally allotted to AJL by the then Chief Minister of Haryana Bhupinder Singh Hooda”. The Congress leader is an accused in the money laundering case registered by the agency.
“Now the Adjudicating Authority PMLA, New Delhi, has held that the defendants have committed the schedule offence, generated proceeds of crime and further found that the properties attached are proceeds of crime beyond any doubt and thereby ordered for confirmation of the provisional attachments order,” the ED said in a statement.
While moving to attach the property last year, the ED had said: “The AJL, after acquisition of the said plot, projected it as untainted property and further acquired loans from the bank by way of mortgaging the same from time to time. Since the value of the plot fraudulently allotted to AJL has represented proceeds of crime, the ED has attached the plot under PMLA (Prevention of Money Laundering Act).”
Hooda has termed the case against him as “political vendetta” and claimed there was no wrongdoing. The CBI had registered an FIR in April 2017 and filed a chargesheet last November. The ED case of July 2016 is based on a Haryana Vigilance Department FIR of May 2016.
According to ED sources, Hooda, as ex-officio chairman of Haryana Urban Development Authority, allegedly caused a loss of Rs 65 lakh to the exchequer by granting the land to AJL in violation of rules and against the advice of officers. Sources said the discrepancies had been flagged in a state audit report. ED sources said the transaction dates back to 1982 and is related to a Hindi newspaper, Navjeevan, that was brought out by AJL. In that year, the newspaper was allotted the plot by the Haryana government under the condition that AJL would complete construction within two years. “At that time, the plot was bought for Rs 57 lakh,” said an ED official.
However, AJL did not begin construction for years, leading to the allotment being cancelled in 1992. AJL appealed to the higher authority but that plea was rejected in 1995. “AJL was returned its money after deducting 10% as penalty,” said the official.
However, AJL then went for a series of appeals to retain the plot, even submitting a plea to the Chief Minister’s office, which was rejected in 1998 by the then Bansi Lal government. The company renewed its appeal when the Congress government under Hooda came to power in 2005. The appeal, made by Congress leader Motilal Vora, also requested that the land be re-allotted to AJL at the 1982 rates.
“There are file notings where Hooda’s bureaucrats have said that this can’t be done. It is clearly written that the land must be auctioned at market rate. But Hooda overruled and re-allotted the land to AJL at 1982 rates,” said the ED official.