National Herald case: Rs 90-cr loan request takes center stage in ED probe

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WHILE ENFORCEMENT management questioned Congressman Rahul Gandhi for the fifth day on Tuesday in connection with the National Herald case, agency sources said the questioning was continuing for several reasons, including Rahul’s inability to respond to how Congress granted a loan to Associate Journals Limited. (AJL) and if there was any evidence of this.

The sources said that while Congress claimed that AJL, publisher of the National Herald newspaper, received a loan of over Rs 90 crore over a period of time and to compensate for it, AJL converted its debt into shares and sold it to Young Indian, owned by the Gandhis, no congressional leader interviewed by the agency has so far been able to provide evidence.

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

“We have asked all congressional leaders to give us the check numbers by which these payments were made or the bank statements that show these payments. However, no one, including Rahul, seems to know about anything. No one even says there was a cash payment. In the AJL books it is not clearly stated and is only mentioned as a general entry,” an ED official said.

AICC spokesman Abhishek Manu Singhvi criticized the ED for dragging out Rahul’s interrogation for days. “First, selective oral unofficial leaks should never be used by any agency to spread misinformation. Second, it is absurd to suggest that until the investigator gets the answer they want to hear, they will continue the interrogations. Thirdly, this case cannot raise more than five to seven finished questions. And if each question is asked in five different ways, even then the interrogation cannot last more than one day.

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

This issue had also been debated during investigations carried out by the income tax service. The IT department had in its report called the payments claimed by Congress an “alleged loan” because there was no proof of payment.

He said he issued notices to the AICC “to obtain evidence as to when, how, and how the loans were advanced and the nature of the funds from which these loans were advanced…However , no clarification or evidence has been submitted to prove that the alleged loan of Rs 90.21 crores was in fact advanced by AICC to AJL.

ED sources said Congress’ assertion that the agency had filed a money laundering case without any predicate offenses was misplaced. Officials said that when the court had already learned of the offense and the Gandhis were out on bail in the case, the need for another agency to register an FIR was unnecessary.

“The Delhi Magistrates Court has already taken cognizance of the offenses under Sections 403, 406, 420, 120B of the Indian Penal Code and issued summonses to Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and others, who are currently at large under caution. The Gandhi family’s appeal against the magistrate’s judgment in the Delhi High Court was dismissed and the Supreme Court also dismissed their appeal. The offense of Sections 420 and 120B is the offense under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act. Thus, all the requirements to register a money laundering case have been met,” a senior ED official said.

ED officials also rejected Congress’s defense that Young Indian was a non-profit organization and therefore not about money-making and money-laundering. “Young Indian has not carried out any charitable activity since 2010 and has engaged in business activities. He has taken over AJL properties worth over Rs 800 crore and earned rent from them. Thus the claim that even if the properties were fraudulently taken over, the proceeds will go to charity is an untenable argument,” an official said.

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