New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday refused to put on hold criminal proceedings against Congress president Sonia Gandhi, vice president Rahul Gandhi and others in the National Herald case but expunged all adverse observations, inferences and conclusions by the high court. The Congress expressed satisfaction over the order.
A bench of Justice Jagdish Singh Khehar and Justice C. Nagappan also exempted the Gandhis and others from personal appearances, noting that their presence in the trial court would cause more "inconvenience, than convenience".
However, it said the trial court was free to have their presence as and when needed.
"When people of such prominence are there, they are not going to run away. If on a particular occasion when you need them, you can call for them. There will be more chaos with these people going to the court than not going to the court," the court told BJP leader Subramanian Swamy, the complainant, as he said that power to grant exemption was vested in the magistrate.
In yet another relief to the Gandhis, the court permitted them to raise all the issues, including the locus of Swamy.
"Whatever you want to say, you say at the time of the framing of the charges," the court said as senior counsel Kapil Sibal sought to assail maintainability of Swamy's complaint and his locus.
Making it clear that they were not going to reverse the high court order, Justice Khehar said that their interference would be limited to the adverse inferences and conclusions by the high court.
"We are not happy with what the high court judge has said. That is the limited interference (of expunging them) we can do.
"So far as determination rendered by the high court in rejecting the prayer for quashing of the proceedings against the petitioners are concerned, we find no justification in intervening with the order," it said.
Congress leader Randeep Singh Surjewala said the party has always believed that conclusions recorded by the single judge bench of Delhi High Court were "neither appropriate on the merits of the case nor in accordance with the established tenets of law".
"Millions of Congressmen and women have a deep sense of satisfaction qua ends of justice having been met with the decision of Supreme Court today in National Herald case," he said.
Sibal said they told the court that no case of cheating or breach of trust had been made out.
He said they contended that Swamy has no locus standi in filing a private complaint in matters relating to cheating and breach of trust because and it is only the person cheated who can complain to the court.
"As we stand today, there is no observation, no conclusion of any judicial authority for any wrong doing by any office-bearer of the Congress including Congress president or the vice-president. There is no prima facie finding of any illegality," he said.
Sibal called upon BJP to be more circumspect in its observations.
"We are very glad that now we will have the opportunity in the trial court to in fact expose Swamy and his malicious allegations and the propaganda machinery of the BJP," he said.
The Gandhis had earlier this month moved the apex court against the summons issued to them by a trial court in the National Herald case. They had also challenged the Delhi High Court's December 7, 2015 order, rejecting their plea against their being summoned.
The high court had also dismissed the pleas by Congress treasurer Motilal Vora, Gandhi family friend Suman Dubey and party leader Oscar Fernandes against the summons issued by the trial court on June 26, 2015 on Swamy's complaint alleging "cheating" in the acquisition of Associated Journals Ltd. (AJL) by Young India Ltd. (YIL) - "a firm in which Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi each own a 38 percent stake".
Swamy had claimed that the Gandhis, as majority shareholders of YIL, benefited from the acquisition of AJL, which published National Herald.