Young Indian Pvt Ltd, whose major stakeholders are Congress President Rahul Gandhi and his mother Sonia Gandhi, today moved the Delhi High Court seeking a stay on the Rs 249.15 crore income tax proceedings against it. Sonia, Rahul, Young Indian (YI) and others were earlier summoned as accused by a trial court in the National Herald misappropriation of assets case. YI, which was incorporated in November 2010 with a capital of Rs 50 lakh, had acquired almost all the shareholding of the Associated Journal Ltd (AJL), which is the owner of the National Herald newspaper.
The YI’s petition, which came up for hearing before a bench of Justices S Ravindra Bhat and A K Chawla, said the company will have to deposit some portion of the Rs 249.15 crore tax demanded before its appeal is heard by the IT authorities. The bench asked the firm to inform it on March 19 how much of the demanded amount it was willing to deposit.
YI has approached the high court seeking a direction to stay the recovery of the demand of tax and interest of Rs 249.15 crore raised in pursuance to a notice of December 27, 2017 issued under section 156 of the I-T Act for the assessment year 2011-12. It has also challenged the order of the income tax authorities rejecting the firm’s application and sought a stay on the direction to pay Rs 49.83 crore, that is 20 per cent of the total disputed outstanding demand.
A 2017 office memorandum of the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) prescribes a deposit of 20 per cent of the disputed Income Tax demand by taxpayers for obtaining a stay pending disposal of the matter by the Commissioner of I-T (Appeals). Earlier, the aggrieved taxpayer had to deposit only 15 per cent of the disputed I-T demand before approaching the CIT (Appeals).
BJP MP Subramanian Swamy, in a private criminal complaint filed before a trial court, had accused the Gandhis and others of conspiring to cheat and misappropriate funds by paying just Rs 50 lakh, through which the YI had obtained the right to recover Rs 90.25 crore which the AJL owed to the Congress party.
Senior advocate Arvind Datar, appearing for YI, submitted that it was a charitable company and does not have any income and the Income Tax authorities have wrongly raised a demand of Rs 249 crore for the assessment year of 2011-12. He said the tax demand was “patently untenable” and the I-T officer had over- assessed the properties of the firm.
Advocate Ashish Jain, representing the I-T department, said the firm should have first approached the principal commissioner of Income Tax before moving the high court with its grievances and urged the court to direct the company to first deposit some amount before hearing its plea.
“Let the court pass an order for disposal of the firm’s appeal before the CIT in a time bound manner and they shall be directed to first deposit some amount of the total tax demand,” he said. The firm’s counsel, however, claimed that it did not have any income and it can only pledge its shares and even the land belonged to AJL.
The bench, however, made it clear that there has to be consistency, as it was asking other litigants to deposit some amount of the total tax demand before hearing their pleas. The bench was informed that the firm’s appeal before the CIT is listed for hearing on March 16. The trial court had summoned the Gandhis and others as accused persons, besides Young Indian on June 26, 2014.
The Gandhis and the other accused — Motilal Vora, Oscar Fernandes, Suman Dubey and Sam Pitroda — had denied the allegations levelled against them. On December 7, 2015 the high court had rejected their pleas for quashing the summons issued against them by the trial court in the case.
On December 19, 2015, the trial court had granted bail to Sonia, Rahul, Vora, Fernandes and Dubey, who had appeared before it pursuant to summons. Pitroda was granted bail on February 20, 2016 when he had appeared in the court. Sonia, Rahul, Vora (AICC treasurer), Fernandes (AICC general secretary), Dubey and Pitroda were summoned for the alleged offences of dishonest misappropriation of property, criminal breach of trust and cheating read with criminal conspiracy of the IPC.
The IT department’s move to issue the notices followed its probe on Swamy’s complaint alleging that the Gandhis had misappropriated AJL’s assets while transferring their shares to the newly formed Young Indian. According to IT records, 83.3 per cent of Young Indian was held by Sonia and Rahul, 15.5 per cent by Vohra and the remaining 1.2 per cent by Fernandes.