National Herald Case: Sonia, Rahul to Appear Court on Dec 19

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New Delhi: Congress president Sonia Gandhi, her son, Rahul Gandhi and four others on Tuesday were granted exemption from personal appearance in the National Herald case.

They have been asked to appear in Patilal court on December 19. Earlier, when asked if it was a case of political vendetta, Sonia Gandhi said, “I leave it on you to judge.”

Meanwhile, Rahul Gandhi left for Chennai to take stock of the flood relief operations but may not leave for the Tamil Nadu capital until the top court decided on the case.

“This has been filed directly by a BJP member, both the party he belongs to & himself have a long history of personal antagonism. We believe the case has no legs to stand upon and we shall fight it within the confines of the law,” said senior advocate and Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi on Tuesday.

The summons was issued on a petition by BJP leader Subramanian Swamy, who alleged cheating and breach of trust in the acquisition of Associated Journals Limited (AJL) – the publisher of National Herald – by a company called Young India Limited (YIL), in which the Gandhis reportedly hold shares.

Swamy on Monday filed a caveat in the Supreme Court to pre-empt any ex-parte order on appeals likely to be filed by the Gandhis. “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.

The Congress said it would challenge the high court order before the apex court and claimed on Twitter that as part of the BJP’s “petty vendetta politics”, a “completely misconceived” private complaint was instituted by Swamy.

“We have an open and shut case. There have been several legal deficiencies. We have unassailable arguments,” said Congress spokesperson and senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, who is representing Rahul Gandhi in the case.

Started in 1938 by Jawaharlal Nehru, the National Herald’s circulation and financial health steadily deteriorated over decades, leading to its closure in 2008 with a debt of Rs 90 crore on its head.

Swamy accused the Congress of loaning this money to AJL and then assigning the debt to YIL for Rs 50 lakh – a transaction that the BJP leader said amounted to cheating and a breach of trust.

The National Herald building in New Delhi is prime real estate, which was leased out for commercial purposes and AJL is receiving rental of Rs 60 lakh a month for this property alone. AJL also has real estate assets of at least Rs 2,000 crore in posh areas of New Delhi and several other places, Swamy claimed.

“This is what happens when you buy such a huge property for a pittance,” BJP spokesperson Shahnawaz Hussain told reporters, as he also took a dig at the Congress president who returned from the US on Monday after a medical check-up. “Law is equal to the common man and Sonia Gandhi. They cannot hide from it.”

The high court verdict could blunt the opposition party’s attacks on the government in Parliament over a slew of issues.

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