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Summons against Sonia, Rahul stalled by Delhi HC

Posted on Aug 07 2014 | IANS

New Delhi, Aug 6 : In a major relief to Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and her son and party vice president Rahul Gandhi, the Delhi High Court Wednesday put on hold a trial court's summons to them in a case over acquisition of the National Herald newspaper.

Justice V.P. Vaish suspended the trial court order till Aug 13, when it will hear arguments in the bunch of petitions filed by the Congress leaders challenging the lower court order.

Advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for Sonia Gandhi, sought to quash the trial court proceedings, saying: "Every decision of the magistrate at every point is erroneous."

"These are unfortunate proceedings against a party that is seeking to revive a newspaper, which is associated with the Congress party for over 80 years. Courts must be extremely careful in scrutinising the matter in the case," he said.

Sibal refuted Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Subramanian Swamy's claim that Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, as majority shareholders of Young Indian Ltd. (YIL), benefited from the acquisition of Associated Journals Ltd. (AJL).

He clarified that YIL was a Section 25 company, which is in the nature of a society, and its shareholders do not get any dividend, salary or benefit.

Advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for Rahul Gandhi, argued that the shareholders of YIL had no ownership of the properties of AJL.

He said all the properties of AJL even today are with the publishing house and not with its 762 shareholders.

"The properties owned by AJL in Delhi, Mumbai, Patna, and Panchkula are under government leases, except for one property in Lucknow which is under a long-term lease to a charitable eye hospital. The covenants of these properties specifically restrict the disposal of these properties," said the counsel of the Congress leaders.

Singhvi also contended that Swamy had withheld information about the Election Commission dismissing a similar complaint made by him in November 2013, in which he had sought the Congress party's de-recognition for giving an unsecured loan to a private company.

Apart from the Gandhis, Congress treasurer Moti Lal Vohra, family friend Suman Dubey, and Oscar Fernandes sought to quash the proceedings initiated against them by a trial court here.

On June 26, the trial court issued summons to the Congress leaders for Aug 7 on a complaint by Swamy alleging "cheating" in the acquisition of AJL, the publisher of the now defunct National Herald newspaper, by YIL - "a firm in which Sonia and Rahul Gandhi each own a 38-percent stake".

Filing the plea, the Congress leaders said Swamy was a political opponent and the present criminal proceedings were initiated only with an intent to secure an oblique political objective.

"The complainant (Swamy) has no connection whatsoever with the issue at hand. The criminal proceedings are therefore manifestly attended with malafide and the proceeding is maliciously instituted only with an ulterior motive for wreaking vengeance on the petitioners amongst others for narrow political objectives," the plea said.

The trial court in its order, while summoning the Gandhis and others, had said that YIL appeared to have been "created as a sham or a cloak to convert public money to personal use" or a special purpose vehicle to acquire control over assets worth Rs.2,000 crore of AJL, the publisher of the now defunct National Herald.

Swamy alleged that AJL had received an interest-free loan of Rs.90.25 crore from the Congress and that the party transferred the debt to YIL for Rs.50 lakh.

At the time, AJL, which had Vora as its chairman, claimed that it could not repay the loan and agreed to transfer the company and its assets to YIL.

The trial court had said that the complainant had established a prime facie case of dishonest misappropriation of property, criminal breach of trust, cheating and criminal conspiracy.

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