Amid the raging row over National Herald case, Congress on Sunday asserted that the allegations and “insinuations” against party leaders Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi were “deliberately orchestrated”, “patently false” and “defamatory” as they had “not received a rupee”.
Senior party leaders and legal luminaries P. Chidambaram and Ashwani Kumar insisted that all transactions in question were legal, and expressed the confidence that both Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi would be “fully vindicated” through the judicial process.
“[There is] nothing wrong in this transaction. In fact, by putting a non-profit company as the dominant shareholder, we have ensured that not one rupee from the assets can go to any private beneficiary,” said Mr. Chidambaram said defending the move to transfer the shares of Associate Journalst Limited (AJL) to Young India, a company of which Ms. Gandhi and Mr. Gandhi are major shareholders.
Both the leaders have nothing to worry because “they have not received a rupee benefit”, the former Finance Minister said, while raising questions over the Modi government’s role, saying it had acted hastily on a “private complaint” to reopen a shut case.
He claimed that the assets of AJL were now “doubly secure” as a non-profit company is the dominant shareholder.
Mr. Kumar, in a statement here, said there were “incontrovertible facts” which make it obvious that “allegations and insinuations against the Congress leadership and others are deliberately orchestrated, are patently false and defamatory. All transactions in question are entirely legal.”
In this context, he listed some details of the case as well as Delhi High Court’s judgment of December 7 which, according to him, “held that no question of criminality, even upon a prima facie basis arises at this stage“.
He reproduced Para 36 of the judgment as saying: ‘......It needs no reiteration that this is not the stage to even prima facie opine that the ingredients of any of the alleged offences exist to justify putting petitioners on trial or not. Any observation made in this regard by the trial court or this court shall have no bearing when the case of the petitioners is considered at the charge state.’
The Congress president and vice-president have been summoned by a Delhi court in connection with the case on December 19 after the High Court refused to agree to their plea for personal exemption.
This issue led to the stalling of Parliament for most of last week, with the Congress creating uproar, alleging “political vendetta”.
“Congress respects the integrity of the judicial process and is confident that its leaders will be fully vindicated through the judicial process,” Mr. Kumar said.
Mr. Chidambaram said that Young India (YI) was a non-profit company, which meant not one rupee from AJL could be given to any one or could be received by the non-profit company.
“In fact the AJL’s assets have been doubly secured today,” he said, adding there was “no illegality” as there was need to secure the properties of AJL.
When it was pointed out to him that in the Young India company majority of the shares are held by Ms. Gandhi and Mr. Gandhi, he said “it is again reflection of Congress party structure.... Congress party was lender, now it is a Congress party organisation is a lender. It is the same. The lender is a non-profit company. Much better.”
Mr. Kumar said the transaction in question dated back to November 2010 and was declared by the management of AJL and YI itself in the requisite filings before the competent authorities.
“The fact of full public disclosure of the transaction itself demolishes any suggestion of criminality against Directors and shareholders of AGL and YI,” he insisted.
The Congress leader said “in the current holding structure YI — a non profit Section 25 company is a major shareholder of AJL which further enhances the safeguards with regard to the use etc. of the properties of AJL. The Directors and shareholders of a non-profit Section 25 company are legally prohibited from deriving any financial benefit in any form whatsoever for themselves. Not a single paisa has been received by YI, its Directors or its shareholders.”
He said the properties that belonged to AJL continue to remain with AJL.
“YI does not own a single real estate asset or immovable property. The majority of AJL properties are in the nature of government leases and according to the terms of the lease(s) the sale of the land under lease is prohibited. For this reason properties of AJL could not be liquidated or sold to clear its outstanding loans,” Mr. Kumar said.
Insisting that “There is no restriction in law on political parties against advancing loans,” he said, “This was confirmed even by the Election Commission” in its order of November 2012 on a petition for de-recognition of the Congress moved by Subramanian Swamy.
“It is a fundamental legal principle that acts lawfully done, as in the present case, cannot give rise to any criminality whatsoever,” the former Law Minister said.
He said AJL was closely associated with the Congress since 1937 and had espoused its ideology throughout. “It was only natural for the Congress to financially support AJL over the last several decades. The loans advanced by the party to AJL were used to pay unpaid salaries, VRS, taxes, dues to civic agencies and to discharge statutory and other liabilities of AJL.”