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All you need to know about National Herald case

What is the case about?

Sonia and Rahul were summoned in the case in June 2014, after Swamy had filed a complaint accusing them of cheating and misappropriation of funds in acquiring ownership of now-defunct English daily National Herald. The paper was set up by Jawaharlal Nehru in 1938, and shut down briefly in the 1940s and 1970s, and ceased operations in 2008. Swamy claims that Sonia and Rahul floated Young Indian which bought Associated Journals Limited, publisher of National Herald and the company was shut down by Sonia. He claims that Congress funds were used to buy Associated Journals Limited and that the mother-son duo aimed to grab property worth Rs 2000-crore. The Gandhis are the directors of Young Indian and own 76% and the remaining shares are owned by Motilal Vohra, Oscar Fernandes, Suman Dubey and Sam Pitroda. Swamy has alleged that the Congress gave an unsecured loan of Rs 90 crore to the company.

What the court said

Making scathing observations on the “questionable conduct” regarding how they took control of the publication, Justice Sunil Gaur also turned down the plea of Gandhis and five others for exemption from personal appearance in the case in the trial court, where it is listed on Tuesday.

Along with the Gandhis, five other accused–Suman Dubey, Moti Lal Vohra, Oscar Fernandez, Sam Pitroda and Young India Ltd–had challenged the summons issued to them by a trial court on a complaint by BJP leader Subramanian Swamy against them for alleged cheating and misappropriation of funds in taking control of the now-defunct daily.

“After having considered the entire case in its proper perspective, this court finds no hesitation to put it on record that the modus operandi adopted by petitioners in taking control of Associated Journals Ltd (AJL) via special purpose vehicle i.e. Young India Ltd (YIL), particularly, when the main persons in Congress Party, AJL and YIL are the same, evidences a criminal intent. “Whether it is cheating, criminal misappropriation or criminal breach of trust is not required to be spelt out at this nascent stage. In any case, by no stretch of imagination, it can be said that no case for summoning petitioners as accused in the complaint in question is made out. Questionable conduct of petitioners needs to be properly examined at the charge stage to find out the truth and so, these criminal proceedings cannot be thwarted at this initial stage,” the judge said in his 27-page order.

The judge was also of the view that “the gravity of the allegations levelled against petitioners (Sonia, Rahul and others) has a fraudulent flavour involving a national political party and so, serious imputations smacking of criminality levelled against petitioners need to be properly looked into”.

Referring to the complaint by Swamy, the court said that “the transactions of the Congress Party with AJL via YI are not mere commercial transactions as these transactions legitimately attract the allegations of cheating, fraud, breach of trust, misappropriation, etc.”

On whether Swamy had the locus to make the complaint, the high court said “the plea of locus standi cannot be restricted to typical cases of cheating, misappropriation, etc., as here is a case where the act of office bearers of political party having criminal overtones is under scrutiny and so, the challenge to the locus of respondent-complainant to maintain the complaint in question is hereby repelled”.

The objection to summoning of Pitroda and Fernandes on the ground that they reside outside territorial jurisdiction of the trial court was rejected by the high court by terming it as “hyper-technical”.

It also termed as “questionable” the manner in which the shares of AJL were acquired by YIL.

“Even writing off such a huge debt by the Congress Party can legitimately attract allegations of cheating, fraud, etc..

“Such grave allegations levelled against petitioners cannot be brushed aside lightly by relying upon judicial precedents cited, to conclude that the ingredients of the criminal offences alleged are lacking. To say the least, to do so would be preposterous,” it said

Swamy Response  

BJP leader Subramanian Swamy filed a caveat in the Supreme Court to pre-empt any ex-parte order on appeals likely to be filed by Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul in the National Herald case. “I have filed a caveat in the Supreme Court that in case they file any petition, it should not be heard and no order be passed without giving me an opportunity or without hearing me,” he said. Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Subramanian Swamy on Monday filed a caveat before the Supreme Court (SC), urging the apex court not to pass any order without hearing him.

“The high court has rejected both the stay and exemption. I expect, as they are law-abiding people, they don’t want to run away from the case after saying that there is no evidence, there is no basis and there is nothing. They should appear in the court and argue there. But, if they want to go to the Supreme Court, I have filed a caveat today, and the apex court, therefore, will not take any decision without hearing me also,” Swamy told reporters here in response to the Delhi High Court’s refusing to quash a lower court’s summons to Congress president Sonia Gandhi and vice-president Rahul Gandhi and four others in the National Herald case.

‘It took 15 months of arguments, and finally the judge comes to the conclusion that there is a prima facie case and the magistrate has applied her mind, and therefore, has directed them to return and appear before the magistrate,’ he said, adding that if the Congress leaders want to delay the matter they may appeal to the Supreme Court and seek a stay, and perhaps exemption from appearance.

‘If they fail to appear before the court, it can issue warrants as well. The trial, I hope, will go on day-to-day basis and bring the matter to a conclusion in a short period of three-four months, as this is the most scandalous case we have seen in the Modern India,’ said Swamy.

‘Sonia and Rahul Gandhi have set up a company with just Rs. 5-lakh capital, and by all kinds of conspiracy they were able to acquire the Associated Journals Limited, which is the company that was publishing National Herald, which has Rs. 5,000 crore worth of property ‘ all given by the government on concessional terms to publish newspapers. So, this kind of fraud has been exposed, and I am confident that in the trial they will be convicted and go to jail,’ he claimed.

When asked would he oppose the bail petition, the BJP leader said he would be. ‘Among the accused two are foreigners, but not having foreign passports, which is a big question. Sam Pitroda is a US citizen, who can run away anytime. Therefore, they should not be granted bail until the trial is finished.’

Case Timeline 

Following is the chronology in the National Herald case in which Congress President Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul’s pleas challenging summons issued to them by a trial court were today dismissed by the Delhi High Court.

* Jan 2013: National Herald case filed by BJP leader Subramanian Swamy against Sonia and Rahul Gandhi, their companies and associated persons in a Delhi court.

* Jun 26, 2014: Gandhis summoned as accused by a Delhi court in the criminal complaint for alleged cheating and misappropriation of funds in acquiring ownership of now-defunct daily National Herald.

* Aug 1 : Delhi HC issues notice to Swamy on a batch of petitions filed by Gandhis and others in the case seeking stay on summons issued for August 7.

* Aug 6 : HC stays proceedings against Gandhis and others in the case.

* Dec 15 : HC extends stay till disposal of the appeals.

* Jan 12, 2015: Judge recuses from hearing Sonia and Rahul’s plea.

* Jan 27: Supreme Court asks Swamy to make out a case for speedy trial in HC since petition cannot be heard directly.

* Dec 4: HC reserves order on pleas.

* Dec 7: HC refuses to quash lower court’s summons to Sonia and Rahul Gandhi in the case.

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