New Delhi: A court here Thursday issued summons to Congress president Sonia Gandhi and her son and party vice president Rahul Gandhi on charges of misappropriating funds of a company that used to publish the now defunct National Herald newspaper.
In response to a private complaint filed by BJP leader Subramanian Swamy, Metropolitan Magistrate Gomati Manocha said: "I have found prima facie evidence against all the accused." The court has directed them to appear before it Aug 7.
The Congress called it "a motivated complaint". "The allegations are baseless," said party spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi.
A party statement added: "All the persons named in the National Herald matter will seek legal advice and do the needful."
Apart from the Gandhis, the court also summoned Congress leaders Motilal Vora and Oscar Fernandes, Sam Pitroda, who was an advisor to prime minister Manmohan Singh, and former journalist Suman Dubey, who is close to the Gandhi family.
The complaint alleged that the Gandhis formed a company, Young India, in 2010 with 38 percent share each to take control of Rs.2,000 crore worth of assets of Associated Journals Ltd, which published the National Herald.
"Since all the accused persons have allegedly acted in consortium with each other to achieve the said nefarious purpose/design, there are sufficient grounds for proceedings against all of them," the court said.
However, the judge added in 20-page order that "it goes without saying that guilt of an accused is determined after trial when the burden of proof is discharged beyond reasonable doubt.
"This is only the stage of summoning of the accused. When the accused appear before the court they shall be at liberty to refute the allegations of (Swamy), cross examine the witnesses."
The judge, however, added that the complainant had established a prime facie case of dishonest misappropriation of property, criminal breach of Trust, cheating and criminal conspiracy.
The summons were also served on Young India.
"The chain of circumstance appears to give rise to a conclusive or irresistible inference of an agreement between the accused to commit the offences as alleged in a pre-planned manner," the court observed.
It noted that "though the language in the documents is shrouded in ambiguity but it is not difficult to understand that the control over public money/assets appear to have been cleverly transferred to the hands of the few by creating a company (Young India) for this purpose".
Speaking to reporters, Swamy said: "This is a fraud, criminal breach of trust as they have managed to misappropriate the fund of Rs.2,000 crore.
"It is important for the court to take away the passports of Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi so that they do not run away from the country."
He said the offence was made possible because of the Gandhis' "crony control over the Congress party and AJL".
He alleged that they closed AJL in 2008 due to financial crisis and stopped printing the National Herald and sister publications Navjivan (Hindi) and Qaumi Awaz (Urdu), which were saddled with huge unpaid debts.
To resolve the financial crisis, AJL transferred the share equity to Young India by a mere payment of Rs.50 lakhs without taking any reference from the shareholders.
Young India thus acquired the complete ownership of AJL real estate assets of at least Rs.2,000 crores, including a multi-story building in a prime location in Delhi.
The National Herald was started in 1938 by Jawaharlal Nehru. Over the decades, it lost circulation and ran into major financial losses, leading to its closure in 2008.