Monday, April 15, 2024

Cong puts out show of strength as Rahul appears before ED for questioning


New Delhi, June 13: The Enforcement Directorate on Monday questioned Congress leader Rahul Gandhi in a money laundering probe linked to the National Herald newspaper, an occasion for the party to galvanise its workers with protests rolled out in many cities.
As hundreds of Congress workers across India took to the streets and several senior leaders, including Randeep Surjewala and K C Venugopal, were detained in a massive show of strength, Rahul Gandhi was inside the ED office here in what is the first time he has appeared before a central probe agency for questioning.
Accompanied by a battery of leaders and escorted by armed CRPF personnel, the 51-year-old went from the party headquarters in Akbar Road to the ED office in central Delhi a few kilometres away in a convoy of seven cars around 11.10 am.
After about two-and-a-half hours, he left the ED office for a lunch break. His questioning is expected to go on till evening, officials said. The former Congress president, a Z+ category protectee of the CRPF after the Union government withdrew the Gandhi family’s SPG cover in 2019, is expected to write down his statement, they said.
Prohibitory orders were imposed in parts of central Delhi that were heavily barricaded. Among those detained for violating the orders were Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel as well as Randeep Surjewala, K C Venugopal and Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury.
Members of the opposition party have hit the streets in support of corruption and to allegedly protect over Rs 2,000 crore assets of the Gandhi family, BJP leader and Union minister Smriti Irani alleged as protests were staged in multiple cities.
Addressing a press conference, she said the show of strength by the Congress is aimed at putting pressure on the probe agency and asserted that nobody is above the law, (not) “even Rahul Gandhi”.
The ED is recording the statement of the Lok Sabha member from Wayanad in Kerala under criminal sections of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA).
The probe is related to alleged financial irregularities in the party-promoted Young Indian that owns the National Herald newspaper, published by the Associated Journals Limited (AJL).
Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi are among the promoters and shareholders of Young Indian.
Rahul Gandhi is expected to be grilled about the incorporation of Young Indian company, the operations of the National Herald and the funds transfer within the news media establishment.
“The Congress party will fight this oppression by the Modi government,” Indian Youth Congress President Srinivas BV told PTI near the ED office.
“We are not scared. The Modi government should be ashamed that they have turned central Delhi into a fortress just because our leader is going to the ED with his supporters,” he said just before he was detained by the police.
Tempers rose as the day progressed with scenes of slogan shouting, Congress workers jumping barricades and resisting attempts by police to detain them.
Slogans such as “down down BJP”, and “we want justice” rang out in cities such as Bengaluru, Jammu, Dehradun and Jaipur.
A host of Congress leaders spoke out on the alleged harassment.
Rajasthan Chief Minister Gehlot also alleged that the government was misusing central probe agencies and this was nothing but “political vendetta”.
“This is a fight for democracy. The government is trying to muzzle the voices of politicians who are trying to raise their voices,” added former Uttarakhand chief minister Harish Rawat.
“Now, a satyagraha will take place at every corner, he added.
Surjewala said Congress leaders had done nothing wrong and alleged that “Godse’s descendants fear from the truth and they will not be able to suppress truth”.
Ahead of Rahul Gandhi’s appearance before the ED, brother-in-law Robert Vadra came out in his support and expressed confidence that he would be exonerated from all “baseless accusations”.
“I believe truth will prevail and this harassment of the prevailing dispensation will not have the effect they desire, he added.
The Congress party said in press conference in the morning that all funds’ movement in this case were legitimate.
In April, the agency questioned senior leaders Mallikarjun Kharge and Pawan Bansal in April as part of the investigation.
The questioning of the senior Congress leaders and the Gandhis is part of the investigation to understand the share holding pattern, financial transactions and role of the promoters of Young Indian and AJL, officials had said.
The ED recently registered a fresh case under the criminal provisions of the PMLA after a trial court here took cognisance of an Income Tax Department probe against Young Indian Pvt Ltd on the basis of a private criminal complaint filed by BJP MP Subramanian Swamy in 2013.
Swamy had accused Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and others of conspiring to cheat and misappropriate funds with Young Indian Pvt Ltd paying only Rs 50 lakh to obtain the right to recover Rs 90.25 crore that Associate Journals Ltd owed to the Congress.
The Delhi High Court in February last year issued a notice to the Gandhis for their response on Swamy’s plea seeking to lead evidence in the matter before the trial court.
The Gandhis had secured separate bails from the court in 2015 after they furnished personal bonds of Rs 50,000 and one surety.
They, however, contended in the Delhi High Court that the plea by Swamy was “misconceived and premature”.
The other accused in the case filed by Swamy are close Gandhi aides Suman Dubey and technocrat Sam Pitroda. (PTI)