The ED said that the premises must not be opened without prior permission from the agency.
Simultaneously, additional police force has been deployed outside the Congress headquarters in the national capital, a move described as “mysterious” by the grand old party.
Senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh took to Twitter to condemn the deployment of heavy security near the party’s headquarters.
Delhi Police blocking the road to AICC Headquarters has become a norm rather than an exception! Why have they just… https://t.co/WsCdouA9WO
— Jairam Ramesh (@Jairam_Ramesh) 1659527434000
On Tuesday, the agency carried out searches at 12 locations in connection with the case under the criminal sections of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) to “gather additional evidences with regard to the trail of funds”.
The raids were also conducted at the ‘Herald House’ office located at Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg, ITO in central Delhi, which has been sealed today.
The address is registered in the name of Associated Journals Ltd (AJL) which publishes the newspaper.
The ED has extensively questioned Congress president Sonia Gandhi and her MP son Rahul Gandhi in the case apart from a few other Congress politicians.
While Sonia Gandhi was questioned for over 11 hours over three rounds last month, Rahul was quizzed for more than 50 hours over five days in June.
The questioning had led to a series of protests by the Congress members across the country, with senior leaders taking to the streets to condemn the ED action against the Gandhis.
What is the case about
The case pertains to allegations of financial irregularities during the acquisition of AJL by the Gandhi-owned Young Indian Limited in 2010.
The Congress party has said it gave a Rs 90 crore loan to an ailing AJL between 2001-02 and 2010-11 and later, in 2011, the shares of AJL were allotted to Young Indian and this debt was converted into equity and the loan was extinguished in the books of the AJL.
The ED claims these transactions attract anti-money laundering charges as a complex web of transactions and routing of funds were undertaken by the party and its leaders to acquire AJL’s assets worth multiple crores of rupees.
The Gandhis are understood to have told the ED during their separate questioning sessions that no personal assets were made in the Congress-AJL-National Herald deal as Young Indian was a “not-for-profit” company established under section 25 of the Companies Act.
They also told the ED that AJL continues to have possession of all its assets and Young Indian neither “owns nor controls” these properties.
Sonia and Rahul are among the promoters and majority shareholders in Young Indian. Like her son, the Congress president also has 38 per cent shareholding.
The ED action in the case was initiated after the agency late last year registered a fresh case under the PMLA 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.
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 Associated Journals Limited owed to the Congress.
The Congress party had called the ED action against its leaders “political vendetta”, saying there was no money laundering in the case.
In February last year, the Delhi high court issued a notice to the Gandhis seeking their response to Swamy’s plea.
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”.
The Congress party has said that the Income Tax Department has valued AJL’s properties at worth about Rs 350 crore.
(With inputs from PTI)
Watch Enforcement Directorate seals National Herald office