Are Sonia Gandhi, Rahul and some congress leaders guilty of a criminal conspiracy to takeover a national daily with assets more than Rs 2,000 crore?
By Vishwas Kumar
Indian media faced one of its worst periods between 2009-11. Publications were closing down, employees were fired and salaries slashed remorselessly. One was a newspaper I worked for. Within a fortnight, around 100 young journalists lost their jobs. However, a good piece of “news” cropped up from an unexpected quarter—the Congress was reviving and re-launching National Herald, a newspaper founded under the chairmanship of Jawaharlal Nehru and barely 500 meter away from my office. Soon, all tenants of the Herald House, a prime property on India’s Fleet Street—Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg— were asked to vacate and an army of workers took over, as the building started getting repaired and repainted. We, too, took an interest in the goings-on. Meanwhile, some enterprising journalists even confirmed from their “political sources” that the Congress Party was, indeed, going to relaunch the newspaper. Some hopefuls even submitted their bio-data.
Cut to 2014. BJP member Subramanian Swamy files a criminal complaint against Sonia, Rahul Gandhi and others for trying to “take over” National Herald properties worth crores. Court documents reveal that the alleged conspiracy started in 2010, within a year of UPA-II coming to power. It led to the metropolitan magistrate (MM), Gomati Manocha, issuing a summons on June 26 for the appearance of the parties on August 7.
What a conspiracy!
Others who were summoned include Motilal Vora (treasurer, AICC), Oscar Fernandes (general secretary, AICC), Suman Dubey, journalist, and Sam Pitroda, former chairman of the National Innovation Council and other directors of Young Indian Ltd (YI). This was a company that was incorporated in 2010 and which took over the “debt” of Associated Journals Limited (AJL), the publisher of National Herald. AJL formally stopped printing National Herald, Navjivan and Qaumi Awaz in 2008. It was under a huge debt of Rs 90 crore. Swamy has accused Sonia and Rahul Gandhi and others of conspiring to cheat and misappropriate funds by just paying Rs 50 lakh, by which YI obtained the right to recover Rs 90.25 crore which AJL owed the Congress party and also having access to its immense real estate.
YI was incorporated on November 23, 2010 with just Rs 5 lakh as paid up capital under Section 25 of the Companies Act, wherein Sonia Gandhi and her son, Rahul, owned 38 percent shares each. In December, 2010, the board of directors of YI formally passed a resolution to “own” the outstanding debt of AJL. This was after AJL admittedly obtained an unsecured zero interest loan from the Congress for an equivalent amount to liquidate the said debt. At that time, the Congress president was Sonia Gandhi, the general secretary, Rahul Gandhi and the treasurer, Motilal Vohra, who, besides being the shareholder and director of YI, was also the CMD of AJL.
According to the complainant, AJL held a board meeting and came to the conclusion that it could not discharge its debt and resolved, without approval of its shareholders, that in lieu of YI owning its debt and for a consideration of Rs 50 lakh from it, the entire share equity of AJL be transferred to it. Thus, AJL became a wholly owned company of YI. The Congress president, along with other party office bearers, namely Rahul Gandhi, Motilal Vohra and Oscar Fernandes, who together owned 100 percent of the equity of the YI, wrote off the loan obtained from the party as irrecoverable. Thus, by a mere payment of Rs 50 lakh, YI acquired complete ownership of AJL. The balance sheet of AJL showed it had real estate assets of at least Rs 2,000-5,000 crore, including a multi-storied building in the prime area of Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg. AJL also has real estate in Lucknow, Bhopal, Indore, Mumbai, Panchkula and Patna.
However, what initially raised suspicions of an unfair deal was YI’s objectives. It said it would “not engage in publishing any newspaper, including the National Herald”. And true to their objective, YI directors leased the Herald House for commercial purposes. And who did it lease it to? None other than the Government of India (GOI); the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) rented the property to open a passport office.
The balance sheet of AJL shows how the funds were misappropriated. The complainant alleged that AJL owned real estate worth more than Rs 2,000 crore in its balance sheet. Informal estimates put this at Rs 5,000 crore. Against this, AJL owed just over Rs 90 crore to the Congress Party for zero interest unsecured loans. Besides this, it had very little other liability. The balance of real estate of AJL leftover, even after paying of Rs 90 crore loan, actually belongs to AJL’s shareholders, numbering in thousands.
If AJL’s shares or real estate had been sold by auction and the proceeds distributed to shareholders, they would have received a windfall. The Congress too would have got back its loan with interest from 2008 due to the huge appreciation in value of real estate. But now, the only beneficiaries are Sonia Gandhi, Rahul, Vohra and Fernandes.
Manocha in her 20-page summoning order emphasized the ambit, scope, meaning and import of it, which is to explain whether there is a “prima-facie” material to make a criminal case. “At this stage…the court on the cursory perusal of the complaint and the evidence without weighing the evidence meticulously has to see whether there is prima facie evidence in support of the charges,” she explained. The second important technical aspect the MM dealt with was whether the complainant, whose interest/rights have not been directly violated, can institute the present complaint. But she opined that “the complainant is completely eligible to institute and pursue the present complaint.”
How the mighty have fallen.