'Malegam, Bansi Mehta devised Herald restructuring plan'

Sonia and Rahul Gandhi
Senior chartered accountants Yezdi H Malegam and Bansi S Mehta suggested an "action plan" - including floating a non-profit Young Indian - to revive The Associated Journals Limited (AJL), Congress leaders Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi said in a petition filed in Supreme Court on Thursday.

"For the purpose of undertaking the process of revival of AJL, renowned financial experts Bansi S Mehta and Yezdi H Malegam were requested to suggest an action plan. According to the plan, Young Indian was incorporated as a company under Section 25 of the Companies Act, 1956, in November 2010," the special leave petition said. Business Standard has reviewed a copy of the petition.

According to the action plan, loans of over Rs 90 crore given over the years by Congress to AJL, the parent of National Herald, were assigned to a then non-profit Young Indian for a sum of Rs 50 lakh. According to the second leg of the plan, Young Indian, floated by professionals and Gandhi family loyalists Suman Dubey and Sam Pitroda, got controlling stake of AJL.

Gandhis later became controlling shareholders of Young Indian with 38 per cent stake each. Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Subramanian Swamy has alleged the entire transaction was a 'land grab', aimed at the substantial real estate assets of National Herald in major cities such as Delhi, Lucknow and Mumbai.

Malegam was a Reserve Bank of India board member and famously heading the central bank's panel on microfinance at the time of AJL restructuring, according to Bloomberg data. Mehta is chairman of Gillette India and is on the board of several companies. He is also the chief mentor of Bansi S Mehta & Co., a six-decade old firm in Mumbai "specialising in taxation, mergers & acquisitions, accounting & assurance, and corporate advisory."

The petition challenged the Delhi High Court's December order, which had allowed the trial court to go into several charges, including cheating and criminal conspiracy, raising several questions of law.

BJP leader Subramanian Swamy's 2013 complaint had alleged the commission of various offences under Sections 403, 406, 420 r/w S. 120 B of Indian Penal Code (IPC) in the Young Indian takeover of AJL.

The Gandhis' petition questioned the locus standi of Swamy, who had filed the complaint, leading to legal proceedings and termed it 'politically motivated'. It stated: "The complaint filed by the complainant was a gross abuse of the process of law in as much as that despite the absence of essential ingredients for the offences alleged against the petitioner under Sections 403, 406, 420 r/w 120B of IPC; a false, vexatious and politically motivated complaint had been filed by the respondent, who is admittedly a third party to the entire set of transactions, solely with a view to unleash political vendetta to harass and cause harm to the leaders of INC."

The questions included whether "the impugned judgement is liable to be set aside as the Hon'ble Single Judge of the High Court has evaded the question as to what offences are alleged in the complaint, grounds to proceed against the accused, allegations in the complaint and material brought on record prima-facie to substantiate the said accusation."

The petition also wanted the apex court to consider the high court's "failure to take into consideration the facts on record, pleas raised by the accused and legal questions emerging in the course of the hearing."

The petitioners, which included Young Indian directors Suman Dubey and Sam Pitroda, also contended "that the Hon'ble Single Judge has conducted fishing and roving inquiry into allegations of a general nature without examining the question as to what offences are alleged to be prima-facie."

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