Quizzed for 6 hours, Sonia Gandhi tells ED Motilal Vora handled AJL transactions

Congress president Sonia Gandhi has expressed her inability to explain the transactions that facilitated the takeover of the assets of Associated Journals Limited (AJL), the publisher of National Herald and other party publications, by Young Indian in which she and son Rahul hold a controlling stake.

Sonia — who was questioned for six hours by the Enforcement Directorate on Tuesday in connection with the alleged money laundering case involving the acquisition of AJL and its assets worth Rs 800 crore by Young Indian — said that Motilal Vora, the late former party treasurer, alone knew about the details of the transactions between Congress, AJL and Young Indian, ED sources said.Earlier, Rahul and other Congress functionaries, including leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Mallikarjun Kharge, and treasurer Pawan Kumar Bansal, had taken an identical stand when questioned by officials of the anti-money laundering agency, the sources emphasised.

Congress on Tuesday refused to comment when TOI sought its reaction to Sonia Gandhi denying knowledge of the AJL transactions related to its acquisition by Young Indian. However, earlier, in reaction to Rahul’s submission before the agency, Congress secretary Pranav Jha had told TOI: “Proceedings of the ED are of judicial nature and leaking them is a criminal offence. Therefore, we will not comment on it.”

The ED, which has summoned Congress chief Sonia Gandhi again on Wednesday, has been trying to figure out how Young Indian (YI) ended up acquiring AJL and its assets, essentially prime real estate provided at concessional rates by Congress governments in cities such as Delhi, Mumbai, Lucknow, Bhopal and Chandigarh.YI had paid Congress only Rs 50 lakh from Rs 1 crore it had arranged from Dotex Merchandise Pvt Ltd, which is suspected to be a Kolkata-based shell company, according to the agency. Congress has claimed that it had paid Rs 90.2 crore to AJL to help meet its obligations towards payment of provident fund arrears of its employees and VRS dues. But, party functionaries have failed to provide any proof of the alleged payment and whether it was made in cash or by cheque, ED says. Young Indian claims it took over AJL’s debt owed to Congress and in turn the party transferred 100% shareholding of AJL to it, the agency says.

ED says it found it incredulous that YI, with a share capital of Rs 5 lakh, managed to take over AJL’s assets by taking over the Rs 90 crore debt it owed to Congress. “Since YI did not have any funds at the time of the alleged purchase of a loan of Rs 90.2 crore, it claimed taking a loan of Rs 1 crore from Dotted Merchandise,” according to the ED dossier.

The collective denial by Congress functionaries about exactly how YI ended up being the owner of crores of assets within months of its launch poses a hurdle for investigators. Sources, however, indicated that they are looking forward to concluding the questioning of the Congress chief by Wednesday in order to file a prosecution report (equivalent of chargesheet) so that the trial in the politically sensitive case can begin soon.So far, Sonia has recorded statements for more than 75 questions during an eight-hour session spread over two days, helping the ED team clock better progress than what it had managed with Rahul. Sources said it took the investigators five days to record Rahul’s responses to around 100 questions.

Sonia and Rahul are out on bail after a Delhi court had taken cognisance of charges against them and ordered for their trial for offences under Sections 120B (criminal conspiracy) and 420 (cheating) of IPC, based on the findings of an income tax assessment report in the National Herald case. The Delhi HC and later the SC refused to drop the charges against them. The ED’s investigation under the PMLA is based on the Delhi court taking cognisance of the I-T charges.

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