Associated Journals Ltd (AJL), which runs the National Herald newspaper, on Wednesday told the Delhi high court that the Enforcement Directorate's (ED) May 2020 provisional attachment order attaching its nine-storey building in Mumbai was 'non executable' as the agency has not identified which portions have been attached.
The ED in a statement issued in May last year had said the asset 'germinated out of proceeds of crime has been attached to the extent of Rs 16.38 crore' which according to the agency were proceeds of crime to its money laundering probe against AJL.
AJL contended before the high court that attachment of the entire building would affect its lease holding agreements entered into with various entities in respect of floors 3 to 9 of the building located in the Bandra area of Mumbai.
It told the high court that without prejudice to its rights, it can maintain status quo in respect of the ground to second floors and the basement of the building as these portions were being used for its own purposes.
Justice Prathiba M Singh, thereafter, asked the lawyer for ED to take instructions as to in respect of which portions of the building it wants that status quo be maintained to recover the alleged proceeds of crime to the tune of Rs 16.38 crore.
The high court asked ED to inform it by March 12 and said that till then status quo be maintained in respect of ground floor to second floor of the building and no third party interest be created in them.
The direction was issued as status quo orders have been passed by the high court in various similar matters where provisional attachment orders (PAOs) have been passed by ED.
During the hearing, AJL told the court that ED has reserved its decision in respect of the final attachment order to be passed.
AJL, controlled by senior Congress leaders which includes members of the Gandhi family, has challenged the PAO on the ground that it was issued after expiry of the mandatory 180 days for issuing such an order under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA).
ED told the court one such similar matter was pending before a division bench of the high court and was listed for hearing on March 4.
The agency, in its statement, had alleged that the accused in this case, that includes former Haryana chief minister and Congress leader Bhupinder Singh Hooda and Moti Lal Vora, who has passed away, 'used the proceeds of crime' in the form of a plot allotted 'illegally' to AJL in Panchkula and pledged it to avail loan from the Syndicate Bank branch on Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg in Delhi to construct this building in Bandra.
'Thus, the said asset at Mumbai that germinated out of the proceeds of crime has been attached to the extent of Rs 16.38 crore. Further investigation is going on,' the agency had said in May last year.
The Panchkula plot has already been attached by the ED, and Hooda and Vora have been questioned by it in the case.
The plot at C-17, Sector-6 was allotted to AJL first in 1982 by the Haryana government.
But the same was resumed back by the estate officer of the Haryana Urban Development Authority (HUDA) by an order in October 1992 as AJL did not comply with the conditions of allotment letter, ED had said.
'However, Hooda blatantly misused his official position and dishonestly allotted the said plot afresh in the guise of reallotment to the AJL at original rates plus interest in violation of necessary conditions and policy of HUDA by an order of August 28, 2005 for Rs 59,39,200,' it had alleged.
The actual value of the property is about Rs 64.93 crore, it had said.
ED has claimed that Hooda, as the then CM, caused wrongful loss to HUDA and wrongful gain to AJL by ignoring legal opinion and recommendations of HUDA officers and financial commissioner and principal secretary, Town and Country Planning.