In a reprieve for Congress President Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and others, the Delhi High Court today stayed till August 13 the criminal proceedings before a trial court against them in a case relating to acquiring ownership of National Herald daily.
"Renotify the matters on August 13. Till that time, the impugned order dated June 26, 2014 of the trial court against the accused shall remain stayed," Justice V P Vaish said.
The stay has come as a relief to Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and others including Congress treasurer Moti Lal Vora, General Secretary Oscar Fernandes, Sam Pitroda and Suman Dubey who were asked to appear before a trial court tomorrow.
The court's order came after senior lawyers, Kapil Sibal, A M Singhvi and Harin Raval, appearing for Sonia, Rahul and Vora respectively, concluded their arguments with the plea that the complaint and summons be quashed as the trial court order was "erroneous" on fact and law as well.
The Congress leaders have challenged a lower court's summoning orders against them on a complaint of BJP leader Subramanian Swamy alleging cheating and misappropriation of funds in the acquisition of the daily by Young Indian (YI).
Pitroda is the only accused who, so far, has not moved the high court as the summons has not been served on him.
Besides Gandhis, Vora is among the directors of Young India which were recently given almost 99 per cent ordinary shares of the Associated Journals Limited (AJL). AJL had been publishing newspapers 'National Herald' in English, "Navjivan" in Hindi and "Quami Awaz" in Urdu.
Sibal and Singhvi, during the arguments, challenged the "locus" of Swamy in filing the complaint saying that the offence of cheating and criminal breach of trust are "compoundable" in nature and it is not the case that the BJP leader is a victim of these alleged crimes.
"This is a case where no single ingredient is being made out against the accused. Not even one element is made out against him (Rahul). The complaint is drafted on completely barred law," Singhvi said.
"There is not even one single aggrieved complainant in this case but Dr Swamy is a hypothetical complainant. As per him (Swamy) the whole world is deceived but there is not a complaint. This is very strange," he said.
Sibal, appearing for the Congress President, sought quashing of the trial court proceedings, saying, "Every finding of the magistrate, on every point, is erroneous.
"This is the most unfortunate proceedings against a party which is seeking to revive a newspaper, which is associated with the Congress party for over 80 years. Courts must be extremely careful in scrutinising such matters," he said.
Former Law Minister refuted Swamy's claim that Sonia and Rahul, who hold majority shares in Young India, have been benefited from the acquisition of AJL as the YI is a charitable firm under Section 25 of the Companies Act.
Such companies do not pay any dividends, salary or any benefit to their shareholders, he said.
Singhvi, who argued after Sibal, gave a chart to the judge to drive home the point that the accused shareholders of YI had no ownership of the properties of AJL as nothing has been transferred to YI.
"All the properties, including the building on Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg here, are still with the AJL and have not been transferred to YI," he said.
"The properties owned by AJL in Delhi, Mumbai, Patna, and Panchkula are under government leases, except for one property in Lucknow which is under a long-term lease to a charitable eye hospital. The covenants of these properties specifically restrict the disposal of these properties," he said.
Citing an apex court judgement, he alleged that Swamy has been running a "vicious" campaign against Gandhis on social websites such as Facebook and Twitter and they are in public domain.
Swamy had earlier made statements that he wanted to see Gandhis behind the bars, he said.
Singhvi also said Swamy had withheld the information from the trial court about the dismissal of his complaint by the Election Commission in November 2013. The BJP leader had sought de-registration of Congress party.
The court has now fixed the matters for hearing on August 13 when the counsel for Suman Dubey and Swamy will argue their case.
Swamy, however, opposed the stay of trial saying that they should have alleged these pleas in the trial court and now the whole process would be stalled.
While summoning the six as accused in the case, the trial court had held that Swamy has established a prima facie case of cheating, misappropriation of funds and criminal breach of trust against them.
Swamy had accused Sonia and Rahul Gandhi and others of conspiring to cheat and misappropriate funds by just paying Rs 50 lakh by which YI obtained the right to recover Rs 90.25 crore which the AJL had owed to the Congress party.
The accused persons were summoned under sections 403 (dishonest misappropriation of property, 406 (criminal breach of trust) and 420 (cheating) read with section 120B (criminal conspiracy) of the IPC.
Speaking at the AICC briefing, Singhvi said that after the detailed arguments over two days, the court has given an interim stay of the summoning order issued by the magistrate which required the presence of the six accused tomorrow.
"This interim order is purely an interim order and has been given today evening and the rest of the matter, principally, the complainant's arguments, will be heard in High Court on August 13.
"As a responsible party and responsible counsel, we do not intend to pre-judge matters and comment on the merits," he said.