Congress leader Rahul Gandhi was questioned by the ED for the second consecutive day on Tuesday in the National Herald money-laundering case, with the grand old party calling the agency action vendetta politics of the Centre against opposition leaders. Gandhi (51) arrived at the Enforcement Directorate (ED) headquarters on APJ Abdul Kalam Road in central Delhi around 11:05 am, accompanied by his sister and Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.
His questioning began at 11:30 am after the completion of some legal formalities, officials said. After a session of about four hours, Gandhi took a break for about an hour at around 3:30 pm and went home. He rejoined the questioning around 4:30 pm.
In a similar play of events like Monday, the "Z+" category CRPF security personnel of Gandhi hanged on the footboard of his SUV as the convoy made a dash to the ED office in the morning. Delhi Police personnel were deployed in huge numbers and section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) was imposed around the agency's office.
All approach roads leading to the ED office were out of bounds for the public as barricades were put up and central anti-riot police force RAF and Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel were deployed, who detained hundreds of Congress leaders and supporters outside the party headquarters at 24, Akbar Road and around central Delhi. Congress leader Randeep Surjewala and Youth Congress president Srinivas BV, among others, were rounded up and made to board police buses.
Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel told reporters after meeting the Gandhi siblings at the Congress headquarters that there is "no money laundering in the National Herald case and the central agencies are acting at the behest of the government". Former Uttarakhand chief minister Harish Rawat said the Gandhis are being targeted and that he was stopped by police from going to the Congress office.
Gandhi, an MP from Wayanad in Kerala, spent over 10 hours at the federal agency's office on Monday, where he was questioned over multiple sessions, and his statement was recorded under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA). Officials said as the former Congress chief's questioning could not be completed on Monday, he was summoned again.
While agency sources informed that Gandhi recorded his statement and checked its transcript minutely, Congress leaders claimed that the investigators took multiple breaks during his questioning. The investigating officer of the case, an assistant director-rank ED officer, is expected to continue the questioning related to the incorporation of the Young Indian company, the operations of the National Herald newspaper, the loan given by the Congress to AJL, and the funds transfer within the news media establishment.
The probe pertains to alleged financial irregularities in Young Indian Private Limited, promoted by the Congress, that owns National Herald. The newspaper is published by Associated Journals Limited (AJL) and owned by Young Indian.
Gandhi's mother and Congress president Sonia Gandhi, who is currently admitted to a hospital here due to Covid-related issues, has also been summoned by the agency for questioning in the case on June 23. This is the first time that any member of Congress's first family is being questioned in a criminal case. Priyanka Gandhi's husband Robert Vadra was questioned by the ED in a money-laundering case linked to an alleged land scam in Rajasthan a few years ago.
Congress has accused the Centre of targeting opposition leaders by misusing investigative agencies. Putting across its version, the party has said AJL, which was established in 1937, faced huge debts, and the Congress, from 2002 to 2011, gave Rs 90 crore to the National Herald newspaper to pay the salaries of the journalists and staffers who worked there.
The ED questioned senior Congress leaders Mallikarjun Kharge and Pawan Bansal in April as part of its probe. Kharge has claimed that he gave "evidence" to the agency during the recording of his statement. The questioning of the senior Congress leaders and the Gandhis is part of the ED's investigation to understand the share-holding pattern, financial transactions, and role of the promoters of Young Indian and AJL, officials had said.
The ED recently registered a fresh case under the criminal provisions of the PMLA after a trial court here took cognisance of an Income-Tax department probe against Young Indian on the basis of a private criminal complaint filed by BJP MP Subramanian Swamy in 2013. Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi are among the promoters and shareholders of Young Indian.
Swamy had accused Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi, and others of conspiring to cheat and misappropriate funds, with Young Indian paying only Rs 50 lakh to obtain the right to recover Rs 90.25 crore that AJL owed to the Congress. In February last year, the Delhi High Court issued a notice to the Gandhis for their response to Swamy's plea, seeking to lead evidence in the matter before the trial court.
The Gandhis had secured separate bails from the court in 2015 after they furnished personal bonds of Rs 50,000 and one surety. They, however, had contended in the high court that Swamy's plea was "misconceived and premature".
The other accused in the case filed by Swamy are the Gandhis' close aides Suman Dubey and technocrat Sam Pitroda. Both have denied any wrongdoing.