The Enforcement Directorate on Tuesday said it has attached immovable assets and equity shares worth about Rs 752 crore as part of its ongoing money laundering investigation against the Congress-promoted National Herald newspaper and companies linked to it.
The immovable assets that have been attached include the National Herald's office premises at ITO in Delhi, the Nehru Bhawan at Mall Avenue near Kaiserbagh in Lucknow and the Herald House in Mumbai, sources said.
The provisional attachment order came as the elections in five states of Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Telangana and Mizoram are in progress and the counting of votes is scheduled to be held on December 3.
The Congress called the agency action as "petty vendetta tactics" and dubbed the ED a "coalition partner" of the BJP which, it claimed, is staring at a certain defeat in the assembly polls.
The federal probe agency alleged in a statement that in this case the shareholders and donors of the Congress were "cheated" by the office-bearers of AJL and the party.
A provisional attachment order has been issued by the federal probe agency under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act against Associated Journals Ltd and Young Indian.
The National Herald is published by AJL and owned by Young Indian Private Limited.
Congress leaders Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi are majority shareholders of Young Indian with 38 per cent shares held by each one of them.
In the statement, the ED said it has issued an order to provisionally attach properties worth Rs 751.9 crore in the money laundering case being investigated under the PMLA.
Under the law, such a provisional order has to be approved by the Adjudicating Authority of PMLA in a time period of six months following which the ED can take possession of the attached properties.
"Investigation revealed that Associated Journals Ltd 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 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," it said.
National Herald's immovable assets include office premises at ITO in Delhi and one near Kaiserbagh in Lucknow.
The Gandhis, Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge and party leaders Pawan Bansal, DK Shivakumar (Karnataka deputy chief minister) and his MP brother DK Suresh were questioned and their statements were recorded by the agency in connection with the case last year.
According to sources, they may be called again for questioning before the ED files a charge sheet in the case.
The money laundering case stems from a court order -- Metropolitan Magistrate of Delhi -- that took cognisance of a private complaint against alleged irregularities in the National Herald's affairs on June 26, 2014.
The court had held that seven accused persons and entities, including Young Indian, "prima facie" committed offences of criminal breach of trust under various sections of the IPC, including cheating and dishonestly inducing delivery of property, dishonest misappropriation of property and criminal conspiracy, the ED said.
"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," the agency said.
It added that AJL closed its publishing operations in 2008 and started "using" the properties for commercial purposes, it alleged.
It said AJL had to repay a loan of Rs 90.21 crore to All India Congress Committee, however AICC treated the said loan of Rs 90.21 crore as non-recoverable from AJL and sold it for Rs 50 lakh 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 agency claimed.
After purchasing the loan of Rs 90.21 crore from AICC, YI demanded either re-payment of loan or allotment of equity shares of AJL to it, the ED said.
AJL, it added, held an Extraordinary General Meeting 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 1,000 shareholders was reduced to a mere 1 per cent and AJL became a subsidiary company of YI. YI also took control over properties of AJL," the agency said.