Former Congress president Rahul Gandhi appeared before the Enforcement Directorate (ED) on Monday in a money laundering case linked to the National Herald newspaper as party workers took to the streets in large numbers in multiple cities, including Delhi, to protest against the misuse of Central agencies.
Mr. Gandhi has been summoned again on Tuesday, officials said.
On Monday, Mr. Gandhi, who entered the ED headquarters around 11.10 a.m., underwent about three hours of questioning before he was allowed a lunch break around 2.30 p.m. After visiting his mother and Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, who is undergoing treatment for COVID-related issues at Sir Gangaram hospital, Mr. Gandhi returned to the ED office at 3.30 p.m. for a second round of questioning. He left the ED headquarters around 11:25 p.m. after nearly eight hours of questioning in the second round.
ED officials are believed to have asked the former Congress chief to write down his statement under Section 50 of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) during the first round of questioning.
Earlier in the day, the Delhi Police clamped down on the party’s plans to take out a march from the All India Congress Committee (AICC) headquarters to the ED office with several layers of barricading and detained senior leaders, including Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhuesh Baghel, Lok Sabha member Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, party’s general secretary (organisation) K.C. Venugopal, Harish Rawat, Jairam Ramesh, Randeep Surjewala and Manickam Tagore.
Mr. Surjewala said former Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram was pushed away by police personnel which resulted in an injury.
Mr. Chowdhury, who is the party’s leader in the Lok Sabha, formally lodged a complaint with the Tughlaq Road police station about suffering an injury because of alleged manhandling, while visuals of Mr. Venugopal being forcibly lifted by the police personnel went viral.
Party general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra dropped in at the Tughlaq Road police station to check on the senior leaders who were detained by the police after stopping their march.
Late at night, around 11:25pm, Mr Chowdhury and Mr Venugopal dared the police personnel to formally arrest them or release them as they were detained for over 12 hours without a formal charge.
Congress leaders and MPs, who were detained in various police stations like Mandir Marg, Sarojini Nagar besides Tughlaq Road, were let off only after Mr Gandhi left the ED office.
“This [Narendra Modi] government has unleashed the terror of Central agencies on people. That’s why I called up the offices of CBI Director, Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) Chairman to meet them and convey my feelings as a citizen and as a Chief Minister about how low their credibility is now,” Mr. Gehlot said, adding that the CBI and CBDT officials told him that they would call on him in Jaipur.
Mr. Baghel questioned why the Central agencies targeted only Opposition leaders and never anyone from the ruling party.
“Not one leader from the BJP or any of their allies has been questioned. The Central agencies are being used to suppress the Opposition. Whenever a raid takes place on an Opposition leader, first the case is highlighted as a very big one. Then when the same leader joins the BJP, the case is dismissed,” Mr. Baghel said.
“Rahul Gandhiji is being targeted for standing up for an idea of India that our freedom fighters fought for,” Chandan Yadav, AICC secretary for Chhattisgarh, said.
While the leaders of the G-23, the ginger group pushing for internal reforms, were conspicuous by their absence, other top party leaders gathered at the Congress headquarters early in the morning to express their solidarity with Mr. Gandhi.
Accompanied by senior leaders, including Ms. Vadra, Mr. Chidambaram, Mr. Gehlot and Mr. Baghel, the former Congress chief left the AICC headquarters on Akbar Road in a convoy of seven SUVs, escorted by armed CRPF personnel. Ms. Vadra sat in the same vehicle until it reached the ED office on APJ Abdul Kalam Road, a short distance away.
Most of the lanes and arterial roads leading to the ED office were barricaded and prohibitory orders under CrPC Section 144 were imposed in the area by the Delhi Police.
The police had reportedly cited the recent communal tensions and the law and order situation to deny permission for the march and parts of central Delhi were converted into a fortress with anti-riots police, the Rapid Action Force and the CRPF deployed on the route from the AICC headquarters to the ED office.
The investigating officer of the case, in the rank of an Assistant Director, is understood to have put questions about the incorporation of Young Indian, a not-for-profit company that now owns Associated Journals Ltd. (AJL) which publishes the National Herald newspaper.
The case to investigate alleged financial irregularities under the PMLA was registered about nine months ago after a trial court took cognisance of an Income Tax Department probe that was carried out on the basis of a private criminal complaint filed by former BJP MP Subramanian Swamy in 2013.
Mr. Swamy had approached the court alleging that the assets of AJL were fraudulently acquired and transferred to Young Indian, in which Ms. Gandhi and her son owned 38% shares each.
Young Indian paid ₹50 lakh to the Congress for transferring the ₹90-crore debt to it, the complaint said.
The Congress party, at a press conference, said that the 1937-established AJL faced huge debts and the party, from 2002 to 2011, gave ₹90 crore to the National Herald to pay salaries of the staffers.