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India court summons Gandhis over "funds misuse"

An Indian court Thursday summoned Sonia and Rahul Gandhi, leaders of the defeated Congress party, over allegations that they misused funds of a newspaper once run by the family.

NEW DELHI: An Indian court Thursday summoned Sonia and Rahul Gandhi, leaders of the defeated Congress party, over allegations that they misused funds of a newspaper once run by the family.

The mother-son duo of the famed Nehru-Gandhi dynasty are due to appear in court next month after Subramanian Swamy, a politician from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, filed a petition accusing them of misusing funds of the National Herald newspaper which closed down in 2008.

The paper was launched by India's first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Sonia Gandhi, widow of Nehru's grandson Rajiv, later became the chief patron of the trust that ran the publication.

"I have found prima facie evidence against all the accused. The court has directed them to appear before it on August 7," said presiding judge Gomati Manocha, according to reports.

The newspaper, first published from the northern city of Lucknow in 1938, played a prominent role promoting nationalist sentiment before India's independence from Britain in 1947.

But dogged by bad management, poor circulation and falling revenue, Congress president Sonia Gandhi finally decided to close the publication.

"Once they appear they will have to take bail and deposit passport," Swamy tweeted Thursday.

Swamy first filed the case in 2001, blaming the Congress top bosses of illegally acquiring the newspaper's assets by floating a new private company, Young Indian, using their party funds.

He alleged that the Gandhis aimed to grab property worth US$332 million owned by the newspaper's publishing firm, Associated Journals, using fraudulent papers.

Both Gandhis are directors of the new company, owning 76 per cent stake in it and the remaining shares are owned by four other Congress members, who have also been summoned to court.

Congress party spokesman Abhishek Manu Singhvi dismissed Swamy's charges as "baseless and motivated", telling reporters that the case would be "legally demolished".

The Nehru-Gandhis have provided three prime ministers and its Congress party has dominated Indian politics since independence but was routed in recent elections that brought the BJP back to power.

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