'Part of a witchhunt': Leaked Dhingra Commission report unnerves Congress
Leaked portions of the Justice SN Dhingra Commission report making their way to a media house has put Congress on the backfoot.
After Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s two-page clarification on 27 April where she distanced herself from husband Robert Vadra’s controversial businesses, senior party spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi seemed to be in great pain on 28 April trying to explain how the leak was against the orders of the High Court, “part of a witchhunt” and how contents of the report would not be able to stand in the court since both Robert Vadra and former Haryana chief minister BS Hooda were not served notices.
Singhvi suggested that the report may have been leaked by the government. Union Minister Venkaiah Naidu had refuted these allegations.
Hooda had earlier moved the Punjab and Haryana High Court with a plea to restrain the Times Group publication from going ahead with publishing a report based on the Dhingra Commission finding. The court reportedly refused to intervene, forcing Priyanka Gandhi to come out with a clarification even before the newspaper published the report.
Allegations against Vadra
Robert Vadra has been under the lens of the investigating agencies for shady land deals that were struck by companies controlled by him in Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh.
Justice SN Dhingra was appointed to look into allegations that former chief minister BS Hooda’s government in the state favoured Vadra in these deals. Manohar Lal Khattar, the present Chief Minister of Haryana, had appointed the Commission in 2015. The Commission submitted its report in August last year.
Leaked portions of the report carried by sections of the media indicate that not just Vadra, but also Priyanka Gandhi, made windfall gains in the land deals in Haryana.
The report, quoting people familiar with the findings of the commission of enquiry report, says Vadra made a profit of Rs 50.5 crore without spending anything.
Skylight Hospitality, Vadra’s company, bought land from Onkareshwar Properties which was subsequently sold to Gurgaon realty behemoth DLF, after change in land use. Vadra’s lawyers have denied any wrongdoing in the transaction and have claimed that the transaction was done according to the law of the land.
The Commission is learnt to have looked into other deals as well. According to reports, Vadra bought land totaling some 41 acres in four installments from one Harbans Lal Pahwa in Amipur village in Haryana, just across the Yamuna from Greater Noida, in 2005-2006 which was sold back to Pahwa in 2010 at a profit of around Rs 2.5 crore.
Priyanka Gandhi, too, bought 5 acres from the Pahwa in 2006 for Rs 15 lakh, which was sold back to Pahwa in 2010 for Rs 80 lakh.
These strange deals where the initial seller of the agricultural land bought the land back at a price five times of what he received initially raised eyebrows.
Justice Dhingra, the reports say, is said to have recommended an enquiry into the shady land deals.
Another NRI, CC Thampi, said to be based out of the UAE, has also been under the radar of the Enforcement Directorate for flouting provisions of Foreign Exchange Management Act. The grapewine has it that Thampi’s land deals too could have a Vadra connection since some of the 400 acre land bought by him through companies, including Holiday City Centre Private Limited, Holiday Properties Private Limited and Holiday Bekal Resorts Private Limited, falls in the same area of Haryana.
Vadra’s Skylight is also under the ED lens for its land deals in Bikaner in Rajasthan where the agency had registered a case under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act.
Congress hits back
Priyanka Gandhi has claimed that the land purchased by her in Amipurwas bought six years before husband Vadra’s controversial land deal through the rent money earned from properties inherited from grandmother Indira Gandhi.
‘The source of funds for this or any other property acquired by Smt Priyanka Gandhi Vadra has no relationship whatsoever with Shri Robert Vadra's finances and/or Skylight Hospitality and no relationship whatsoever with DLF," the statement said.
Abhishek Manu Singhvi, while calling the “leaks an old habit of the government”, questioned why Vadra and Hooda were not served notices by the Dhingra Commission. He also asked how the report had been leaked despite assurances made by the Haryana Advocate General to the court.
The Congress spokesperson says it was absurd how the Commission could complete the enquiry without serving notices under section 8(b) to either Vadra or Hooda. "This is a usual practice of the BJP that to target somebody they get reports leaked to malign a person's image," Singhvi said.