Breather for Gandhis but no stay on National Herald trial

Rajat Kain

Kolkata: Congress activists shouting slogans against Prime Minister Narendra Modi during protest against BJP Government over the National Herald case in Kolkata, December 19, 2015. Photo - PTI

FILE: Kolkata: File photo of Congress activists shouting slogans against Prime Minister Narendra Modi during protest against BJP Government over the National Herald case in Kolkata, December 19, 2015.
Photo – PTI

In a relief to Congress party top leadership and other office bear facing a legal test in National Herald case, the Supreme Court exempted them from appearing before the trial court. Party president Sonia Gandhi, vice president Rahul Gandhi and four other leaders were due to appear before the trial on February 20 in a case filed by BJP leader Subramanian Swamy alleging wrongful acquisition of the National Herald properties.

“Petitioners shall be exempted from personal appearance and it is needless to say that it will be open for the trial court to seek their presence at any stage if and when their presence is required,” the court said.

At the same time, other due proceedings before the trial court will continue as the court rejected the contention in plea seeking stay on the trial.

The apex court bench of Justice JS Khehar and Justice C Nagappan, however, expunged the remarks made by the Delhi High Court in its order last year November. The counsel for Gandhis and other leaders had contended that “remarks made by the High Court bench may influence the trial”.

“We are of the view that it was not open for the high court to record the findings conclusively… We hereby direct expunging of all inferences, findings and observations arrived by high court on various factual aspects of the matter,” the bench said.

File Photo (PTI)

File Photo (PTI)

The issue relates to the criminal complaint lodged by a senior BJP leader Subramanian Swamy for alleged cheating and misappropriation of funds in acquiring ownership of now-defunct daily National Herald by the charitable firm, Young India.

The Patiala House trial court had on June 26, 2014 issued summons seeking personal appearance of Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, her son and party vice president Rahul Gandhi and other party leaders. Soon after the Patiala House trial court order, they had moved the Delhi High Court on July 30, 2014, which stayed the summons till the final disposal of the matter.

Bu they got a big set-back last year November, when the High Court rejected their plea and directed them to appear before the trial court.

Ever since the Delhi High Court verdict, the Congress party has accused the government of ‘political vendetta’. Even both the houses of Parliament witnessed passionate protest by the Congress MPs over the issue during the Winter session last year December.

Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi had even gone to the extent of claiming that the case is a “pure political vendetta coming out of PMO”.

Granting bail to Gandhis, along with Congress leaders Motilal Vora, Oscar Fernandez, family loyalist Suman Dubey and Sam Pitroda on December 19, 2015, the trial court had adjourned the matter till February 20.