Congress President Sonia Gandhi was on Tuesday questioned by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in the National Herald money laundering case for the second time.
Earlier on July 21, Sonia was questioned for over two hours during her first day of questioning in the case. She replied to 28 questions put forth by ED.
On Tuesday, Sonia left ED office after about two and half hours of questioning in the case. She would return to ED office after lunch.
Sonia reached ED's office in central Delhi around 11 am accompanied by her Z+ security cover and her children Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. While Priyanka Gandhi stayed back at the ED office, Rahul left soon after. He led Congress MPs at a protest in Vijay Chowk, close to the Rashtrapati Bhavan, and was detained by police.
Priyanka was in another room at the ED office so she could meet her mother to provide her medicines or medical assistance if necessary, officials said.
Sonia's questioning and recording of statement is understood to have begun at 11:15 am after initial formalities, including the verification of summons and signing the attendance sheet, were completed.
Tuesday's questioning sessions could see ED asking Sonia some questions on the functioning and running of the National Herald newspaper, the role of its various office-bearers, and her and her son Rahul's participation in the affairs of the National Herald and Young Indian Limited (YIL).
The ED will also match her statement with that of Rahul as both are majority stakeholders in Young Indian, officials said.
Rahul and several party MPs were detained by police at Vijay Chowk on Tuesday after they staged a protest against the ED questioning of Sonia.
Rahul and the other Congress MPs had gathered at Vijay Chowk to march towards the Rashtrapati Bhavan to draw the President's attention to the alleged misuse of agencies by the government, but were stopped by the police. Rahul was put in a police bus but officials did not disclose where he was being taken.
Other Congress MPs at the Vijay Chowk protest site were detained and taken away in separate police buses.
"India is a police state, Modi is a king," Rahul alleged.
He said discussions were not being allowed in Parliament.
He added, "I am not going anywhere. We wanted to go towards the President's house. But the police are not allowing us."
"All Congress MPs stopped at Vijay Chowk and prevented from marching to Rashtrapati Bhavan. Forcibly arrested. Now we are in police buses being taken to a place only PM and HM know where…," Congress Rajya Sabha MP Jairam Ramesh tweeted.
All Congress MPs stopped at Vijay Chowk and prevented from marching to Rashtrapati Bhavan. Forcibly arrested. Now we are in police buses being taken to a place only PM and HM know where…— Jairam Ramesh (@Jairam_Ramesh) July 26, 2022
The Congress MPs had earlier gathered at Parliament to decide on the party's strategy as Sonia appeared before the ED for questioning. Rahul has already appeared before ED for questioning in the same case. He clocked over 50 hours in questioning over five days last month.
How Congress reacted?
The Congress on Tuesday said it will stage a 'satyagraha' all over the country to protest the Enforcement Directorate's summons to party President Sonia Gandhi in the money laundering case linked to the National Herald newspaper.
Congress MPs met at the office of Leader of Opposition Mallikarjun Kharge in Parliament premises and staged a march towards the ED office to protest the questioning.
#WATCH | Delhi: Congress MPs march from Gandhi Statue in the Parliament premises towards Vijay Chowk, in protest against ED questioning of party's interim president Sonia Gandhi in National Herald case.— ANI (@ANI) July 26, 2022
Rahul Gandhi also taking part in the protest march. pic.twitter.com/dfu18gdUoN
AICC general secretary Ajay Maken claimed they have been denied permission to organise a satyagraha outside Rajghat, the memorial of Mahatma Gandhi.
Maken said, "It is very unfortunate that the Government of India has refused to give permission to us to stage a satyagraha. It is the same BJP which organised a protest on June 5, 2015 in support of Baba Ramdev in 2005.
"If the principal opposition party in the country is not allowed to stage a satyagraha, then it amounts of murder of democracy. Where will democracy survive."
He further asked that democracy comprises both the ruling party and the Opposition and how will democracy survive if one of its wheels is "disallowed" to stage a protest at Rajghat.
"This work is being done with political vendetta in mind against the opposition party and our leaders are being harassed only with this objective," Maken charged.
He also alleged that their right to stage a satyagraha is being denied, and their members were not allowed entry into their own office
The Delhi Police deployed a huge force, including CRPF and RAF personnel, and barricade the entire over one kilometre stretch between her residence and the ED office. Traffic restrictions were also imposed in the area.
In Maharashtra, Congress leaders and workers staged a 'satyagraha' at Sanvidhan Square in Nagpur on Tuesday. They condemned the ED summons to Sonia.
In a show of solidarity to Sonia, senior Congress leaders and workers wearing black ribbons gathered at Sanvidhan Square and staged a sit-in protest.
"The ED action is wrong and undemocratic. It is a conspiracy to finish off the Opposition in the country by misusing constitutional agencies," Senior Congress leader and former union minister Vilas Muttemwar said.
The Congress' Nagpur city unit chief Vikas Thakre and Vishal Muttemwar, the chairman of the Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee’s (MPCC) social media department, claimed that this kind of thing has never happened in the past the way the government was trying to finish off the Opposition.
The National Herald money laundering case
The move to question the Gandhis was initiated after the ED late last year registered a fresh case under the criminal provisions of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act.
This was after a trial court here took cognisance of an Income Tax department probe against Young Indian based on a private criminal complaint by BJP MP Subramanian Swamy in 2013.
Sonia and Rahul Gandhi are among the promoters and majority shareholders in Young Indian. Like her son, the Congress president too has 38 per cent shareholding.
Swamy had accused the Gandhis and others of conspiring to cheat and misappropriate funds, with Young Indian paying only Rs 50 lakh to obtain the right to recover Rs 90.25 crore that Associate Journals Limited owed to the Congress.
In February last year, the Delhi High Court issued a notice to the Gandhis seeking their response on Swamy's plea.
Congress leaders Mallikarjun Kharge and Pawan Bansal were questioned by the ED in the case in April.
The Congress has maintained there has been no wrongdoing and Young Indian is a "not-for-profit" company established under section 25 of the Companies Act and hence there can be no question of money laundering.
It is understood that Rahul Gandhi, during his deposition before the ED, stuck to the position that there was no personal acquisition of assets by himself or his family.
According to the ED, assets worth about Rs 800 crore are "owned" by the AJL and the agency wants to know from the Gandhis how a not-for-profit company like Young Indian was undertaking commercial activities of renting out its land and building assets.
(With PTI Inputs)