National Herald Case

ED Attaches Properties Worth Rs 751.9 Cr In National Herald Case

The Directorate of Enforcement (ED) has issued an order to provisionally attach properties worth Rs. 751.9 Crore in a money-laundering case investigated under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), 2002 against Associated Journals Limited (AJL) and Young Indian (YI), a release said.

Investigation revealed that Associated Journals Ltd. (AJL) is in possession of proceeds of crime in the form of immovable properties spread across many cities of India such as Delhi, Mumbai and Lucknow to the tune of Rs. 661.69 Crore and Young Indian (YI) is in possession of proceeds of crime to the tune of Rs. 90.21 Crore in the form of investment in equity shares of AJL.

ED initiated a money-laundering investigation on the basis of a process issued by the Court of Metropolitan Magistrate of Delhi after taking cognizance of a private complaint vide order dated June 26, 2014.

“The Court held that seven accused persons including Young India, prima facie committed offences of criminal breach of trust under section 406 of IPC, cheating and dishonestly inducing delivery of property under section 420 of IPC, dishonest misappropriation of property under section 403 and criminal conspiracy under 120B of IPC,” the release added.

The Court held that the accused persons hatched a criminal conspiracy to acquire properties worth hundreds of Crores of AJL through a special purpose vehicle, Young Indian. AJL was given land on concessional rates in various cities of India for the purpose of publishing newspapers. AJL closed its publishing operations in 2008 and started using the properties for commercial purposes.

“AJL had to repay a loan of Rs. 90.21 Crore to All India Congress Committee (AICC), however, AICC treated the said loan of Rs.90.21 Crore as non-recoverable from AJL and sold it for Rs.50 lakhs to a newly incorporated company—Young Indian without any source of income to pay even Rs.50 lakh. By their action, the shareholders of AJL as well as donors of Congress Party were cheated by the office bearers of AJL and Congress Party,” the release said.

ED investigation revealed that after purchasing the loan of Rs.90.21 Crore from AICC, Young India demanded either repayment of the loan or allotment of equity shares of AJL to it. AJL held an Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM) and passed a resolution to increase share capital and issue fresh shares worth Rs.90.21 Crore to YI.

“With this fresh allotment of shares, shareholding of more than 1000 shareholders was reduced to a mere 1% and AJL became a subsidiary company of YI which also took control over properties of AJL,” the release added.

Further investigation is under progress. (ANI)

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Five Things that Happened Last Week (And What to Make of Them)

Instead of whining about a vendetta, the Congress should answer some questions

To anyone who is following the investigation into the National Herald case, the Congress party’s official reaction to interrogation of the party president Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul should seem ludicrous. The Congress, which is in the Opposition, claims that the investigation amounts to political vendetta by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) against its leaders who have done no wrong.

Really? Let’s take a quick look at what the National Herald case is all about. National Herald, published by Associated Journals Ltd. (AJL), was a newspaper started in 1938 by Jawaharlal Nehru along with 5,000 freedom fighters. The newspaper was intended to propagate the views of the more liberal sections of the Indian National Congress. Later it became the mouthpiece of the party. It has a storied history but by the 2000s it began facing financial troubles and had to cease publication in 2008. It is around then that the alleged irregularities which are now being investigated by the Enforcement Directorate, a Union finance ministry agency that fights economic crime, began.

A quick recap: In 2012, the BJP’s former minister and MP, Subramaniam Swamy, registered a complaint against senior leaders of the Congress party alleging serious financial irregularities that involved the National Herald, AJL and other related companies. Here’s what the details of the charges being investigated are: Around 2008-2010, the Congress party gave loans amounting to ₹90 crore to AJL, ostensibly to bail it out of its financial crunch. But, things took a twist in 2010 when a non-profit company called Young Indian was formed (its major shareholders were Ms. Gandhi and her son and some close associates).

The plot now began thickening. The Congress party transferred AJL’s debt of ₹90 crore to Young Indian for an amount of ₹50 lakh. Then, Young Indian converted the debts into equity in AJL. As a result of this latter move, Young Indian (read: mainly Ms. Gandhi and her son) acquired AJL and its assets. Note that word, assets. AJL’s assets are estimated to be around ₹400 crore, which includes real estate and other holdings across several Indian cities.

And there lies the rub. While there are more layers and details to the transaction, the basis of the case that the ED is investigating centres around whether the Congress party and its top leaders have used National Herald’s publishing company as a conduit for personal benefit by breaking several rules–relating to income tax, political party finances, and those governing non-profits. In recent weeks both Ms Gandhi and her son have been interrogated by the ED for several hours; and assets property of the companies involved have been sealed.

It is in this context that the Congress party’s reaction to all of this has to be viewed. The party’s scratched-record refrain has been that it is a political vendetta by the ruling regime against its top leaders who, the party claims, are innocent and have not indulged in any misdoings. On August 2, Congress leader Jairam Ramesh, who also handles communication for the party, tweeted indignantly: “The raids on Herald House, Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg are a part of the continued attack against India’s principal opposition—Indian National Congress.”

“India’s principal opposition–Indian National Congress” can seem a little bit comical viewed against the fact that with 53 seats in the Lok Sabha (out of a total of 543) and 31 in Rajya Sabha (out of a total of 245) the Congress is a faint shadow when it comes to its representation in Parliament. But more important is the fact that till date, aside from the whining about “a political vendetta” there has been nothing from the Congress party to counter the specific allegations that the ED is investigating.

Did Young India acquire the assets of AJL by “buying” its debt for a song? If so, what was the motive of a  non-profit, ostensibly not involved in commercial activity, to do that? And, finally, did the top leaders of the party benefit from the deal? Instead of crying hoarse about a vendetta, why can’t the brains trust of the erstwhile “principal opposition–Indian National Congress” respond to those questions?

Killing of Zawahiri and its repercussions

It was ironic that the Taliban regime returned to power in Afghanistan around the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks last year. It has been a topsy-turvy ride for the US and the Taliban in the past 20 years in that besieged country. In 20021, the US tried to overthrow the Taliban, which in itself is a factionalised movement ranging comprising somewhat moderate to ultra-fundamentalist groupings, and which provided safe harbour to terrorist groups such as the Al-Qaeda. The US tried to install a pluralistic, tolerant, and economically viable government in charge. Those efforts failed and when the US exited Afghanistan, the Taliban was back.

Last week, Ayman Mohammed Rabie al-Zawahiri, who was 71, and considered to be a principal architect of the 9/11 attacks, was killed by US drones in a posh neighbourhood in Kabul where he was hiding. The killing of Zawahiri has led to speculation about how the Taliban regime will react to it. 

There is no clear answer. On the one side is the fact that Zawahiri was living in a house owned by a close aide of (and probably at the behest of) Sirajuddin Haqqani, an Islamist militant who is now the Taliban’s interior minister. Haqqani himself is wanted by the FBI, which offers a US$10 million reward for his head. Militant Taliban factions will certainly be chomping at the bit for retaliation against Zawahiri’s killing.

On the flipside is the less confrontational and (relatively) pragmatic part of the Taliban. Afghanistan is now ruled by a government led by acting prime minister Hasan Akhund who took charge in September last year. Akhund and many of his cabinet ministers realise that after decades of turmoil, war, unrest, and economic devastation, Afghanistan needs to reach out globally, particularly to the west. It needs to rebuild its infrastructure: its economic activities need to be normalised; and its citizens need long-deserved peace.

So there are pulls and pressures from different sides on the Taliban leadership. Will it be a move towards development and normalcy? Or will it be a relapse into violence and uncertainty? All eyes or on what is in store for this much-tormented nation.

Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan and its business impact

China’s policy on Taiwan is well-known. China’s government opposes Taiwan’s independence and does not recognise the island as a separate country. It believes that Taiwan and mainland China are two parts of a single country’s territory. So when US House of Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi made a visit to Taiwan recently, the Chinese government’s furious reaction was predictable and expected. China condemned the visit; started fire drills in the seas around Taiwan; and unleashed more economic restrictions against the island nation. 

Whether these could escalate into more serious action by China is yet to be seen but the more important aspect of Pelosi’s visit has to do with business. To get a grasp of that, let’s take a look at the market for semiconductors, popularly known as chips, which are at the heart of everything from automobiles to electronic products of every kind. 

For the past two years, the semiconductors market has been facing huge shortages. Partly this is because the demand for semiconductors has shot up–mainly from the auto manufacturers but also other consumers. Also, during the Covid pandemic’s peak, chip manufacturers had to operate at low capacities. The world’s largest chip maker is Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, which is building a plant in Arizona, and Pelosi discussed with its CEO the subsidies that the US could offer. 

But Pelosi’s visit could also have a negative impact on global business. A Chinese electric car battery manufacturer, CATL, which had plans to invest in a large facility in the US, has reportedly delayed its decision. But on a macro level, things are not so linear. China’s biggest trade partner is the US. China exported US$435 billion to the US in 2020. That is also a sort of trade co-dependency between the two economies; and geo-political muscle flexing over Taiwan might just not be worth it.

Why the Covid scare may not be over yet

On August 6, India registered a total of 19,406 new Covid cases in the preceding 24 hours, bringing the country’s overall Covid tally to 4,41,26,994. Less than 20,000 cases in a country of more than 1.4 billion people is nothing. In statistics much bigger numbers can be discounted as rounding-off errors. 

But should that mean India should relax the precautions regarding the pandemic? Probably not. The total death toll attributed to the pandemic since it spread in India is officially pegged at 527,000 and the number of cases at 44.1 million. Many experts, both within the government agencies and independent ones, however, think that those numbers are huge underestimates. This may be partly because statistical compilation in a nation as diverse and as socio-economically unequal can be a nightmare. Under-reporting is rife. Access to healthcare centres remains patchy in many parts of the country.

The thing is that by now the world has seen how the Covid vaccines have by and large been ineffective in preventing the spread of the rapidly mutating virus. The number of variants of the virus continues to grow and the instances of fully vaccinated (as well as boosted) individuals being diagnosed with a Covid variant is now quite common.

In India, the last three waves of the spread of the virus (particularly the second wave) have been devastating both for the health and well-being of its people, particularly the poor, but also for the economy. Prudence suggests that India, instead of relaxing Covid-related restrictions such as use of masks and limitation of public gathering, think of new norms for living in a world where Covid is not showing any signs of going away. At least not for now.

Truss Vs Sunak saga continues

According to a survey by a Tory activist website,  ConservativeHome, Liz Truss has widened her lead over Rishi Sunak in the race for the UK prime minister’s post: 58% of 180,000 Conservative Party members support her, while 26% support Sunak and 12% are undecided. 

Sunak, who was Chancellor of the Exchequer, is focusing his campaign on his competent handling of the economy, particularly during the Covid pandemic by keeping jobs and demand afloat. But this has led to one of Britain’s biggest budget deficits and that cannot portend well for the economy’s future.

Truss, who is foreign secretary, has focused her campaign more on the things she would do if elected PM. Among those is cutting taxes to boost the economy and ease rising living costs. For the older Tory members that could be an appealing prospect. But, observers say, notwithstanding what the polls and surveys say, the race is not yet over and may go to the wire.

Weekly Update: Modi Upsets Sikhs Again; Rahul Wants Constitutional Rights

Prime Minister Narendra Modi simply can’t win with the Diaspora Sikhs, especially those whose lives rotate on Indian Prime Ministers being perpetual enemies. Despite hundreds of social media, WhattsApp groups, websites run by many Sikh individuals and organisations, one news seems to have been missing in all of them. That is the latest news on the MSP, the subsidy for wheat and rice, hot off the press but not in their press.

The threat of withdrawing MSP or Minimum Support Price, was one of the main reasons that the global Sikh community went into an overdrive, literally overdriving trucks, tractors and in more urban places, cars, to express their anger at the notorious Modi Farm Laws. They were declaring their support for the hundreds of thousands of Punjabi farmers who were protesting, braving rain, sun, cold, and sun in Delhi.

Now Modiji has gone and done something that has put many of them in a state of utter disbelief. So dreadful is this situation, that the ‘diaspora Sikh activists’ are lost both for words and actions! They don’t want to believe Modi ji can be so irresponsible! Normally they can dig news from the deepest inner sanctum of Indian establishment. This time they have adopted the approach, see no good, hear no good, speak no good, of the enemy! What has Modi done?

Modiji has supported MSP! SUPPORTED MSP! And what’s more Modiji has taken a warrior like stand at the World Trade Organisation, WTO, in support of protecting the farmers of India, including Punjab. He is not supposed to do that! Modi is meant to be the permanent ‘enemy’ of these protesting Sikh groups. Modi has taken their side. WHAT WILL THEY PROTEST ABOUT NOW?

But it gets more tricky. Facts are challenging sensitivities and loyalties!

At the 12th Ministerial Conference of the WTO, the USA leading G-7 group (which includes the favourite new homeland of Sikhs, Canada) have criticised India for refusing to bring its MSP in line with WTO rules. They accuse India of ‘distorting the market’ by giving MSP of 50% above production costs. This breached WTO rules that restrict it to only 10% above production costs. USA et all went as far as saying that India’s policy is making the grain crises from Ukraine worse.

Now the West has been quite hysterical and emotional about the Ukraine and has sunk ‘logic’ to an abyss of irrationality. It has been shrieking that Moscow wants to occupy all of Europe and even London and Buckingham Palace (King Putin) and must be stopped. Most of the non-western world has been wondering if the West has gone bonkers and wants to stay out of the conflict, much to the insomniac frustration of the G-7 + rest of west.

But to accuse India’s MSP for the world grain crises is taking even irrational statements to a new standard of creationist paranoia.

PM Modi’s Government wants WTO rules to change and permit ‘developing’ countries to give more than 10% MSP above production cost and not be charged at WTO of breaking rules. The US, Canada, Australia and a few others want India to reduce MSP so they can sell their own grain in Indian market and rest of world without competition from India.

The diasporic Sikhs are quiet, perhaps in shock or turning a blind eye to these pesky facts. No word of praise for Modi has been uttered even in whispers. But their biggest dilemma now is, will they drive their trucks, tractors and cars to the White House, or Trudeau’s front door and demand ‘take your grubby hands off our MSP’. It’s a double whammy. First Modi comes to their side, and then their ‘new homelands’ are in fact destroying their relatives in Punjab.

But God is kind, June has come to the rescue. It’s the month when annual rallies by followers of Gandhian Ahimsa, are held to vent anger about the 1984 attack on Sri Darbar Sahib (Golden Temple) by India. Around the world, 360⁰. As Modi is the current Prime Minister of India, he is the target of ‘Modi, Hai Hai, Khalistan Zindabad’. His role in the narrative is to be the bad guy. He has broken that contract! God save the Sikhs, never short of a Schtick.

Citizen Rahul Seeks Equality

Rahul Bhai Gandhi wants to be a citizen and wants his rights under the Constitution! A Constitution that his family in history has treated as ‘house rules’, changed and interpreted as their majesty’s wished. Millions have suffered from the Gandhi family interpretations. Now the Constitution has turned on him. It hurts.

Like courtiers at the Palace, Congress leaders have been protesting at Jantar Mantar for the Prince. They are protesting that the ‘family’ is being victimised and that Enforcement Directorate (ED) has no power to question the Shahebzada of India, Rahul Bhai Gandhi. Even Kapil Sibal has got into the act.

This is the Constitution that Great Grand Daddy made after plagiarising the 1935 British India Act. It is committed to secularism. When minority religions asked for their culture to be given statutory protection, Great Grand Daddy Nehru, said ‘Nahi ho sakta’ we are now secular. But when Hindus asked for cow protection, Nehru seeing votes sliding, quickly enacted ‘cow protection law’, treating cow as a minority. Although they say there are more cows in India than people. When asked, he said it is ‘Indian secularism’, really meaning Nehru secularism dependent on vote banks. Minorities then reverted to non-voting methods to get their version of Indian secularism in law.

Then Grandmother Gandhi decided Indian Constitution only requires one vote to win. So she disenfranchised all Indians of a vote and by her single vote, she brought in the Emergency in 1975. She called it Indian-type democracy. Or Gandhi interpretation of the Constitution. The Sikhs and the international community chased her out after two years, 80,000 in jails, many tortured and the hapless Dr Subramaniam Swamy having to run from the country, seeking refuge in a Harvard teaching post. Modi ji escaped by tying on a turban and pretended to be a Sikh sewadar at Gurdwara Bangla Sahib in Delhi.

Then family interpretation of the Constitution led to attack on Sri Darbar Sahib (Golden Temple) to ‘arrest’ Bhindrawallah and 24 others. Twelve were already dead and others were not present there. There was no charge sheet against Bhindrawallah. No court case. But who cared about such literal interpretation of constitution! It was the Gandhi family interpretation. She decided he was a terrorist and one morning decided she needs to send in the Army to arrest him. Didn’t end well for her.

Then Daddy Gandhi, suspended State and the Constitution’s primary duty of protection of life and liberty through the 59th amendment in 1989. Rajiv Gandhi, treating the Constitution as house rules, decided that as Sovereign family, he can behead people at will (or under his will) and not be bound by silly European ideas of the State’s purpose to protect life and liberty. The trigger-happy Punjab Police was over the moon and went on a shooting spree, termed ‘encounters’ and ‘eliminated’ over 20,000 young men. UN and many Governments reminded Rajiv that life and liberty is the basic purpose of the Constitution.

Then he brought in a number of laws for detention without charges, without trials and you name it. The Constitution was what the Gandhis wanted it to be, albeit with the help of a flock sheep in Parliament shepherded to agree with King Gandhi. Under TADA, 78,000 Gujratis ended in detention without charges in Gujrat where there was no known terrorism. About 75,000 Punjabi Sikhs were detained in Punjab. Only a 160 or so were finally convicted of any ‘terrorist’ threat and that also without much evidence.

Then puppeteer Mummy Gandhi put gold star servant Manmohan Singh to do her bidding. Sikh political prisoners languished in prisons although no constitutional provision permits life sentence for political prisoners. However, the Constitution is what the Gandhis wanted it. Police excesses continued. Bribes apparently broke world records.

The list is endless. Detention without charges or even proper procedures. In Bhuller case, there was no evidence and no witnesses

Now Rahul Bhai wants Constitutional rights! Dr Swamy, the nemesis of Gandhis, has never forgotten his exile from the one woman democratic decision of ‘Emergency’. He wants to exile the Gandhi family to an Island that might sink under climate change.

He brought a charge in court of money laundering against prince and mummy Gandhi who are major shareholders in a company called Young India, even though they are geriatrics. Apparently Congress handed them ₹2,000 crore of property which should really be owned by the country as the original company, Associated Journals, was started by 5,000 freedom fighters and Great Grand Daddy to run a newspaper National herald. It has passed on to the ‘Family’.

The Enforcement Directorate is simply doing its jobs as would be required by court, since charges are at court. Unlike during the Gandhi years, Rahul is free to go home and come back and not in some dingy detention centre being kicked around by a drunken Punjab cop saying ‘oyee’.

The comical group of once very terrifying and powerful entity known as the Congress high command have been reduced by Modi to gather at Jantar Manter shouting and asking for rights that they used to trample on when in power. How things come around! He is only receiving what the family established. Still, if jailed, authorities might oblige and station female jailers wearing shorts, one of Rahul’s visions for modern India.