SC refuses to quash criminal proceedings against Sonia, Rahul

NEW DELHI: Expressing its keenness to appear “fair to all”, the Supreme Court on Friday refused to quash criminal proceedings against Congress president Sonia Gandhi, vice-president Rahul Gandhi and other Congress brass in the National Herald case, but expunged remarks made by the Delhi High Court pinning “criminal intent” on them even before the trial has started.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi and vice-president Rahul Gandhi at the Patiala House Courts in New Delhi on December 19, 2015. Photo: Sushil Kumar Verma

A bench of Justices J.S. Khehar and C. Nagappan also granted the accused Gandhis and Congress leaders exemption from personal appearance in the Magistrate court for future hearings.

Justice Khehar said their appearance would only create more “chaos” and cause more inconvenience than convenience.

The accused, who are out on bail in the case, were scheduled to appear before the trial court on February 20.

Personal exemption was granted despite objections raised by BJP leader and complainant Subramanian Swamy, who quoted the 2011 TGN Kumar versus State of Kerala Supreme Court ruling, which mandated that it is the exclusive prerogative of the magistrate to grant exemption to the accused from personal appearance.

“These are prominent persons Mr. Swamy… They will not run away. If they go to court, there will be chaos. What is the difference now? Either we will grant them exemption or the magistrate will do so on their application…” Justice Khehar said.

“It is a chaos they create…. I go to court alone and I don’t carry people with me to court,” Dr. Swamy said.

“Mr. Swamy is so powerful that he can go alone and still create chaos,” Kapil Sibal, who is appearing for the Gandhis and others, pitched in.

Mr. Sibal argued that the essential ingredient in the offences of cheating and criminal breach of trust – two allegations foisted against the accused in the case – is that only the aggrieved person has the locus standi to file a complaint in court.

“Here Swamy has not been allegedly deceived. There is not a whisper of a complaint from the millions of Congressmen about their leaders,” A.M. Singhvi, who is also appearing for the Gandhis and others, argued.

“I cannot be sent to trial without even a statement from a victim,” Mr. Sibal said.

“We will not like to say anything. Our limited call is to look into what the Delhi HC judge has said. Now the judge had said something. We are not happy with what the judge said. There may be a trial and the remarks of the judge has now prejudiced the trial,” Justice Khehar said.

The bench said it would do nothing to intervene with the current trial proceedings in the case and granted the accused side liberty to raise “all issues” troubling them in the case at the time of framing of charges post investigation.

Justice Khehar pointed out that even the Delhi High Court order had said that issues could be raised at the stage of framing charges before the trial court.

On December 7 last, the High Court’s Justice Sunil Gaur, in a detailed order, refused to quash summons issued to the accused by the trial court.

The High Court also went on to make caustic remarks on the alleged involvement of Ms. Sonia Gandhi and Mr. Rahul Gandhi and how the case had dragged the reputation of the “legendary” Congress party into the mud. The judge had further observed that there was evidence of criminal intent against the accused.

The High Court order led to the personal appearance of the accused in the trial court, which granted them unconditional bail.