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National Herald Scam: Everything You Need To Know

A real life 'hera-pheri' done by top politicians of the Indian National Congress, as alleged by Subramanian Swamy

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National Herald was a newspaper, it's publishing rights were with AJL before Young Indian took over.
National Herald was a newspaper, it's publishing rights were with AJL before Young Indian took over.
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BY SHANTAM SAHAI

  • Indian National Congress lends Rs 90 crores to AJL, with no interest
  • AJL transfers all the shares with the Rs 90 crores debt to Young Indian, in return for Rs 50 lakhs
  • Subramanian Swamy files a private complaint in a court in Delhi, to uncover what is being investigated as the ‘National Herald Scam’

National Herald scam is a case that put the Indian National Congress under the public scanner, with Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi being in the spotlight, it involves other names such as Motilal Vora. All of it started on 1st November 2012 when BJP’s Subramanian Swamy filed a private complaint (a crusade against corruption) in a court in Delhi. He alleged criminal misappropriation by the Gandhis. According to Swamy, the Gandhis had committed fraud by illegally acquiring a public limited company, Associated Journals Limited (AJL) through Young Indian, a private limited owned by them.

The case came out as a conspiracy to amass wealth by exerting influence in the Indian National Congress and fooling the shareholders of AJL. Even though Rahul Gandhi called it a ‘political vendetta’, he surely didn’t expect Swamy would be able to connect all the dots and reach a conclusion of ‘why would the Congress party lend a loan of Rs 90 crore (with no interest) to AJL?’

ALSO READ: National Herald case: Sonia, Rahul may seek bail if needed

What is Associated Journals Limited (AJL)?

It is an unlisted public limited, incorporated on 20th November 1937. Its registered office is Herald House, 5-A, Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg, New Delhi. Even though it was an idea of Jawaharlal Nehru, he never owned AJL. It was started with the support of 5000 freedom fighters who became shareholders. AJL’s initial capital was Rs 5 lakh, which was divided into 2,000 preferential shares each worth Rs 100 and 30,000 equity shares worth Rs 10 each.

Motilal Vora (also the treasurer of the Indian National Congress) was the chairman and managing director of the company since 2002.  The company commanded publishing rights of the National Herald newspaper. It also owned various real estate properties which were estimated to be around Rs 5000 crore. AJL had incurred huge losses before it was transferred to Young Indian in 2011.

What is Young Indian?

It is a private limited which was incorporated on 23rd November 2010 with a capital of Rs 5 lakh. Its registered office too, was 5-A, Herald House, Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg, New Delhi. The company’s 76% shares are held by Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi (who are also in the board of directors), whereas the rest are held by Motilal Vora and Oscar Fernandes, another Congress leader.

The judicial process and investigation are still going on regarding the National Herald Scam. Pixabay
The judicial process and investigation are still going on regarding the National Herald Scam. Pixabay

How was AJL transferred to Young Indian?

  1. The Indian National Congress provided AJL with an unsecured zero interest loan of Rs 90 crores. Remember, the treasurer of INA and chairman of AJL are both the same person, Motilal Vora.
  2. In December 2010, the Board of Directors of Young Indian formally passed a resolution offering to own the outstanding debt of AJL of Rs 90 crores. This offer was accepted by the Chairman and Board of AJL.
  3. The AJL thereafter held a meeting of their Board and without reference to the Shareholders resolved that in lieu of Young Indian owing the debt and for a further consideration of Rs 50 Lakhs, the entire share equity of AJL would be transferred to Young Indian. Thus, AJL became a wholly owned company of Young Indian.
  4. The Indian National Congress wrote off the loan as irrecoverable by falsely holding that the Net Worth of the Company is negative.

Important Points

  • The Memorandum of Association of the AJL bars the Company from entering into any transaction which is not for furthering its objective to publish newspapers.
  • National Herald House is a prime property in Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg and was given by the Government for the purpose of publishing a newspaper at concessional rates. However, the Young Indian, now the owner of the National Herald House, has opened this property for commercial renting such as to Multinational Companies and to the Ministry of External Affairs for its Passport Seva Kendra on rent.

Important Questions

  • Why should Young Indian, which is majorly owned by the Gandhis, be assigned the AJL’s debt of Rs 90 crore that was gonna be written off by the INA?
  • Why didn’t AJL, which owns several real estate properties, use a part of its prime assets to repay the debt?

ALSO READ: Ruckus in Rajya Sabha over National Herald case

What do the shareholders say?

A number of shareholders have claimed that AJL’s chairman, Motilal Vora, and its directors did not inform them or obtain their approval while deciding to transfer its entire equity to Young Indian in December 2010.

“This is the first time I am hearing about such a company in which my grandfather had shared. I have no idea what kind of deal was struck. Had a letter or a notice for approval been sent to any of my siblings or at our Allahabad address, I would have been informed,” said former Supreme Court Judge Markandey Katju, whose grandfather Kailash Nath Katju held 131 shares in AJL.

Legality

As alleged by Subramanian Swamy, it is illegal for a political party to lend money for commercial purposes as per Section 29A to C of the Representation of the People Act, and Section 13A of Income-tax Act.

“According to the evidence so far, it appears that YIL was in fact created as a sham or a cloak to convert public money to personal use to acquire control over ₹20 billion worth of AJL assets,” said Metropolitan Magistrate Ms Gomati Manocha in 2014. The court had noted that all the accused, allegedly, had acted “in consortium with each other to achieve the said nefarious purpose/design”.

The National Herald case is currently an ongoing one, with the accused being charged under Sections 403, 406 and 420 read with Section 120-B of IPC.

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PNB Fraud Fully Exposes the Malicious Intent Of Nirav Modi

For the past seven years, Nirav Modi’s three firms-Diamond R Us, Solar Exports and Stellar Diamonds-were in the process of procuring the LoU's from the Punjab National Bank (PNB)

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Nirav Modi's stamped his name in India’s top corporates with growing global prestige with his fame and affluence.
Nirav Modi's stamped his name in India’s top corporates with growing global prestige with his fame and affluence. Facebook
  • Nirav Modi is India’s one of the better- known diamantaires
  • Since 2013, Nirav Modi has been a regular on the lists of rich and famous Indians
  • Nirav Modi and his firms exploited the loopholes in the banking system to the fullest by seeking letters of undertaking

Who Is Nirav Modi

Nirav Modi is India’s one of the better- known diamantaires. Hewas born in a diamond-dealing family and spent his childhood in Antwerp, Belgium. At an early age of 19, he set sail for Mumbai. After spending nine years down the lane, he came up with his own company named Firestar Diamond Ltd. Initially, Nirav Modi started with selling loose stones and employed the only handful of people. But after attaining staggering success in his business till last year, the number of employees was more than two thousand.

As per the Firestar Group figures, the company’s revenue jumped over three years from 103 billion rupees to some 147 billion rupees by the 2016-17 fiscal year. Since 2013, Nirav Modi has been a regular on the lists of rich and famous Indians. According to Forbes magazine rankings, Nirav Modi’s net worth ranges to some $1.8 billion which itself explains the lavish lifestyle of the business tycoon.

Also Read: Biggest Bank Frauds Which Shook The Indian Economy

Nirav Modi’s stamped his name in India’s top corporates with growing global prestige with his fame and affluence. The Bollywood star and former Miss World, Priyanka Chopra also adorned with Modi’s jewels. From Hollywood’s red carpets to the Bollywood awards, his diamonds have sparkled on the bodies of actors and models like Kate Winslet, Dakota Johnson and Priyanka Chopra.

Last month, Nirav Modi was spotted at the World Economic Forum in Davos. A group photograph with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the foreground and Nirav Modi in between rows of Indian business leaders have come under fire from the Congress party and notably carried out by the Indian media. Some political parties have taken a direct shot at Prime Minister for facilitating the run of Nirav Modi. In one of its tweet, Rahul Gandhi blamed Narendra Modi for this blunder.

Nirav Modi and his firms exploited the loopholes in the banking system to the fullest by seeking letters of undertaking (LOU) and thus raised credit from foreign banks to pay to its merchants. In simple words, LOU is a bank guarantee issued for overseas import payments. The scandal is termed as India’s biggest banking scams in ages.

For the past seven years, Nirav Modi’s three firms-Diamond R Us, Solar Exports and Stellar Diamonds-were in the process of procuring the LOU’s from the Punjab National Bank (PNB). Through these bank guarantees, Nirav Modi was able to raise the short-term loans from foreign branches of Indian banks to pay to its suppliers of raw material for his business.

A criminal complaint with the CBI was filed on January 29 accusing Nirav Modi and others of defrauding the bank and causing it a loss of Rs. 280 crore.
A criminal complaint with the CBI was filed on January 29 accusing Nirav Modi and others of defrauding the bank and causing it a loss of Rs. 280 crore. Wikimedia Commons

Due to the recent setback to the Punjab National Bank, its shares closed 2% lower at Rs. 125.65 against the previous day’s closing on BSE.

The CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) booked the billionaire jewellery designer on January 31, along with his wife Ami, brother Nishal and business partner Mehul Choksi. The Nirav Modi’s wife is a U.S. citizen and said to be equally involved in the billion dollar fraud. The charges levelled against them were of allegedly cheating state-run Punjab National Bank to the tune of Rs. 280 crore. Within a fortnight of the first complaint by the Punjab National Bank, CBI was taken into the loop.

Also Read: 16 Indian origin people indicted for running a scam in the United States

Nirav Modi and his brother Nishal, who is a Belgian citizen, left India on January 1. However, it is still not known if they travelled together or separately. Meanwhile, Nirav Modi’s wife Ami, who is a US citizen, left India on January 6. Following the footsteps of his business associates, Mehul Choksi, the promoter of Gitanjali jewellery chain, left on January 4, the officials said.

After the exposure of the scam, CBI and the Enforcement Directorate moved to the External Affairs Ministry in order to get revoked the passports of Nirav Modi and his associates. Hence, the passports of Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi got suspended for four weeks.

The last nail is struck by CBI as it has asked Interpol for help to arrest celebrity jeweller Nirav Modi, who is being investigated for one of the biggest bank frauds of the country.

Due to the recent setback to the Punjab National Bank, its shares closed 2% lower at Rs. 125.65 against the previous day's closing on BSE.
Due to the recent setback to the Punjab National Bank, its shares closed 2% lower at Rs. 125.65 against the previous day’s closing on BSE. Wikimedia Commons

The federal investigative agency and the law enforcement officials raided his jewellery stores and other businesses in Mumbai and New Delhi. However, Nirav Modi’s flagship company, Firestar Diamond, has denied any involvement in the case.

Also Read: 5 scams that rocked India in 2015

After this scam, Nirav Modi’s biggest rivals like Tanishq and Gitanjali Gems must be having a heave of sigh in terms of competition. As per the NDTV’s report, Nirav Modi is holed up at New York’s JW Marriott Essex House at 160 Central Park South, which includes both a hotel and apartments. The place is situated in a premier location overlooking New York’s well known Central Park.

In the following paragraph, thePNB’s swoop of Rs. 11,300 Crore is explained as it is:

  • There is a system of bank guarantee called a letter of undertaking (LOU). Under this a bank allows its customer to raise money from another Indian bank’s foreign branch in the form of a short-term credit. So basically, the LOU serves the purpose of a bank guarantee.
  • In order to avail LOU, the customer or organization is expected to pay margin money to the LOU issuing bank and hence the credit limit is granted. But in the Nirav Modi’s fraud case, he didn’t pay up any margin money and on the top of that, no credit limit was set up for him.
  • On a regular basis, Nirav Modi managed to pay to its suppliers of rough stones for his three firms. The money was paid through the loans by banks including Axis Bank, and Allahabad Bank. It was done by Nirav Modi’s firms on showing the letters of undertakings issued by the Punjab National Bank.
  • Early this year, Punjab National Bank discovered that there was no official record of such letters of the undertaking before reporting the matter to the CBI.
  • In this case, Nirav Modi and his firms were supposed to repay the loans but till now, all these loans have allegedly been rolled over for want of funds. Incidentally, when the borrower fails to make the repayment, the bank which has issued the LOU is constrained to honour the commitments on the behalf of its customers.
  • On February 15, the RBI (Reserve Bank of India), the central finance body of India reportedly directed the Punjab National Bank to pay all these banks that gave loans to Modi’s firm on the basis of guarantees issued by the state lender.
  • So virtually, Indian bank’s foreign branches were making payments on behalf of Nirav Modi’s to its suppliers in the form of loans.
  • The hell broke out in January when Modi’s firm requested further LOUs for paying the overseas suppliers. The bank officials straightforwardly refused to entertain the request on the ground that Modi’s firm needs to keep 100% collateral for the same. On this, Modi’s firm argued that no such money was kept ‘on margin’ in the past either and this led to an investigation by the bank officials who scanned the records only to discover that there was no trace of any such transaction. Lately, it was known that the guarantees/ undertakings were issued by bypassing the rules in collusion with some Punjab National Bank
  • The violation of the Punjab National Bank’s end was a too glaring blunder to ignore. Hence, a criminal complaint with the CBI was filed on January 29 accusing Nirav Modi and others of defrauding the bank and causing it a loss of Rs. 280 crore.The complaint included Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi, managing director of Gitanjali Gems. But later on, Nirav Modi’s brother and his wife were also found to be included in this startling scam.