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In 2012, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader and advocate Subramanian Swamy filed a complaint before a trial court alleging that some Congress leaders were involved in cheating and breach of trust in the acquisition of Associated Journals Ltd by Young Indian Ltd (YIL). He alleged that YIL had 'taken over' the assets of the National Herald in a 'malicious' way.
About National Herald
The National Herald was a newspaper founded by Jawaharlal Nehru along with other freedom fighters in 1938. It was meant to voice the concerns of the liberal brigade in the Indian National Congress. Published by Associated Journals Limited (AJL), this newspaper became a mouthpiece of the Congress party after Independence. AJL also published two other newspapers, one each in Hindi and Urdu. In 2008, the paper closed down with a debt of over Rs 90 crore.
About Associated Journals Ltd
Associated Journals Ltd (AJL) was a brainchild of Jawaharlal Nehru. In 1937, Nehru started the firm with 5,000 other freedom fighters as its shareholders. The company did not belong to any person in particular. In 2010, the company had 1,057 shareholders. It incurred losses, and its holdings were transferred to Young India in 2011.
AJL published the National Herald newspaper in English, Qaumi Awaz in Urdu and Navjeevan in Hindi until 2008. On January 21, 2016, AJL decided to relaunch these three dailies.
About Young India Ltd
Young India Ltd was set up in 2010, with Rahul Gandhi, then a general secretary of the Congress party, as a director. While Rahul Gandhi and his mother Sonia hold 76 per cent of the company's shares, the remaining 24% are held by Congress leaders Motilal Vora and Oscar Fernandes. The company is said to have no commercial operations.
Allegations by AJL shareholders
Many shareholders, including former law minister Shanti Bhushan and former chief justice of Allahabad and Madras High Courts Markandey Katju alleged that they were not served any notice when YIL 'took over' AJL and that the shares held by their fathers were transferred to AJL in 2010 without their consent.
Who has been named in the National Herald case by Subramanian Swamy?
Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi, Motilal Vora, Oscar Fernandes, journalist Suman Dubey and technocrat Sam Pitroda have been named in Swamy’s National Herald case.
National Herald case: Explained
Subramanian Swamy claims that YIL “took over” over the assets of the defunct print media outlet in a “malicious” manner to gain profit and assets worth over Rs 2,000 crore.
Swamy also alleged that YIL had paid just Rs 50 lakh to obtain the rights to recover Rs 90.25 crore which AJL owed the Congress party; it was given the amount earlier as a loan to start the newspaper. He also alleged that the loan given to AJL was “illegal”, as it had been taken from party funds.
In 2014, the Enforcement Directorate initiated a probe to see if there was any money laundering in the case. On 18 September 2015, it was reported that the Enforcement Directorate had reopened its investigation in the National Herald case.
Congress' response to the allegations
The Congress party has claimed that YIL was created “with an aim of charity” and not for any profit. It also claimed that there was “no illegality” in the transaction, as it was “merely a commercial transaction” for transferring shares of the company. It also raised objections to the complaint filed by Swamy, labelling it as “politically motivated”.
National Herald case: The story so far
In 2015, the Supreme Court asked Swamy to make out a case for speedy trial in high court. Sonia and Rahul Gandhi were granted bail in the case by the trial court on December 19, 2015. In 2016, the Supreme Court granted an exemption to all the five accused in the case (the Gandhis, Motilal Vora, Oscar Fernandes and Suman Dubey) from personal appearances while refusing to quash proceedings against them.
In 2018, the Centre decided to end the 56-year-old perpetual lease and evict AJL from Herald House premises on the ground that the latter was not conducting any printing or publishing activity — the ostensible objective for which the building was allotted in 1962. The L&DO had wanted the AJL to hand over possession by November 15, 2018. The eviction order claimed the building was used solely for commercial purposes. However, on April 5, 2019, the Supreme Court ordered a stay on proceedings against AJL under the Public Premises (Eviction of Unauthorised Occupants) Act, 1971, until further notice.