At a press conference earlier today, the BJP accused the Congress party of corruption, and its spokesperson Sambit Patra called Opposition leader Rahul Gandhi Alibaba and his party cadre the 'chaalis chor' (40 thieves).
The latest attack follows a report in The Indian Express that claimed that Gandhi and his sister, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, had rented their farmhouse to Financial Technologies (India) Ltd for Rs 6.7 lakh per month, back in 2013. That was the time the Congress-led UPA government was investigating the Rs 5,600 crore National Spot Exchange Ltd (NSEL) scam.
NSEL, a commodities exchange promoted by the Jignesh Shah-led Financial Technologies India Ltd (FTIL) - now known as 63 Moons Technologies - was accused of executing illegal forward contracts along with commodity spot trading and running a Ponzi scheme. When a notification from the Forward Markets forced the exchange to suspend most contracts in view of violation of regulatory norms, a payment crisis snowballed out of control, leaving over 10,000 investors in the lurch. This was among the biggest commodities markets frauds in the country.
According to the daily, the rent agreement between FTIL and the Gandhi siblings is dated February 1, 2013, almost 10 months after NSEL received a show-cause notice for alleged violation of norms. FTIL had signed an 11-month lease agreement to rent Indira Gandhi Farm House in Mehrauli for use as a guesthouse for its guests and officers at a steep monthly rent. The company also gave an "interest free deposit of Rs 40.20 lakh vide two separate cheques of Rs 20.10 lakh", respectively to Gandhi and Vadra.
The NSEL scam became public in July 2013 and the agreement was ended in October 2013, two months before the lease would have expired on December 31, 2013. This new development had raised questions of propriety for the Opposition party - at the time, Gandhi was the Congress vice president. On November 29, the Enforcement Directorate reportedly wrote to 63 Moons seeking details of this agreement with the Gandhis.
Responding to the daily's questionnaire, 63 Moons as well as the Congress said the rental agreement was a routine business transaction. According to Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala, the Mehrauli farm was an ancestral property purchased in the 1960s and was rented out for several years.
"In the same process, Indira Gandhi Farm was rented out for 8 months and 22 days i.e. 1 February, 2013 to 22nd October, 2013 to FTIL. The entire rent received from the tenancy was disclosed in the income tax returns and income tax was paid in accordance with the law. During the period of tenancy, one Mrs. & Mr. Khairnar occupied the property," Surjewala told the daily. "There was no question of any association or relationship or any intervention having been made by Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra in any ongoing proceedings either against FTIL or Jignesh Shah or any other person or entity related to them."
Surjewala added that "facing imminent defeat in the election going States, overall rejection of PM's leadership and policies as also complete failure to tackle the all-round distress on various fronts of economy, agriculture, jobs has pushed Modiji to seek to divert people's attention by running such smear campaigns". He, in fact, accused the party in power of using the Income Tax Department and the ED as "revenge tools" to execute a "hatchet job".
The Congress also pointed out that the UPA at the Centre and the Cong-NCP government in Maharashtra had taken "decisive civil and criminal action" against FTIL, Shah and other entities associated with him after the scam broke, including arresting Shah.
Although the Department of Consumer Affairs issued a show-cause notice to NSEL for violating norms on April 27, 2012, no action was taken for almost 15 months. On July 12, 2013, the department asked NSEL not to issue any fresh contracts, and settle all existing contracts. NSEL discontinued all its contracts by the end of the same month. Five months later, the Forward Markets Commission (FMC) declared FTIL and Shah, along with several others, as "not fit and proper" to be shareholder/director in the management or board of any exchange.
It also pointed out that NSEL cannot be said to be independent since 99.9998 per cent of its shares were held with FTIL and two FTIL board members were on NSEL's board, including Shah. NSEL, FTIL, its promoters, brokers and its 24 borrowing members have been under the scanner of multiple probe agencies ever since.
An official spokesperson for 63 Moons Technologies told the daily that the said farmhouse was leased "at a monthly rent of Rs 6,20,000 and refundable deposit of approximately Rs 40 lakh" post "due approval" from FTIL's board. "This was done in the normal course of business like most other corporates do. The said premises was vacated on October 23, 2013 and the security deposit was duly refunded back to us," the spokesperson added.