New Delhi: Congress senior leader Ashok Gehlot with workers protest on 2nd anniversary of demonetisation in Delhi on Nov. 9, 2018. . Image Source: IANS News

New Delhi, Sep 18 : The Congress is facing its toughest phase as several of the senior party leaders are mired in legal battles, with at least two of them either in the judicial custody or in the custody of the investigative agencies.

Among those facing investigations or going through the judicial processes are senior Congress leaders like P. Chidambaram, former Karnataka Minister D.K. Shivakumar, former Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, senior party leader Moti Lal Vora, husband of Congress General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi Robert Vadra and Haryana Congress leader Kuldeep Singh Bishnoi.

Chidambaram, former Finance Minister, was first to face the heat of the investigative agencies after the Lok Sabha polls.

He was arrested on August 21 by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) which is probing the case of alleged irregularities in the grant of Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) approval to the INX Media case involving Rs 305 crore when Chidambaram was the Finance Minister.

Following the arrest, Chidambaram, who had also held the portfolio of Home Minister, spent 14 days in CBI custody till September 4. He was sent to 14 days' judicial custody on September 5 by a Delhi court.

Former Karnataka minister and senior party leader D.K. Shivakumar was arrested by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) on September 3 in connection with its probe into the charges of money laundering.

Shivakumar is considered to be the party's troubleshooter as he was instrumental in keeping the Gujarat Congress MLAs from being poached in 2017 ahead of the Rajya Sabha election.

He was arrested after the Karnataka High Court rejected his plea for interim protection from arrest by the financial probe agency in late August.

Shivakumar was on the radar of the Income Tax Department and the ED since demonetisation in 2016. An I-T search at his New Delhi flat on August 2, 2017 led to seizure of Rs 8.59 crore unaccounted cash. The I-T Department lodged cases against him and his four associates under sections 277 and 278 of the I-T Act, 1961 and sections 120(B), 193 and 199 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

Based on the I-T Department charge sheet, the ED registered a money laundering case against Shivakumar, Haumanthaiah, an employee at Karnataka Bhavan in New Delhi, and others.

Shivakumar had arranged for their stay at a luxury resort in Karnataka in 2017. Ahmed Patel, the Congress candidate, won the vote narrowly. The Karnataka legislator also shepherded MLAs in Karnataka during the coalition government of the Janata Dal-Secular and the Congress and held talks with the rebel MLAs.

Trouble is also brewing for Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath in the 35-year-old anti-Sikh riot case as the Union Home Ministry on September 9 gave its nod to reopen the case by the Special Investigation Team (SIT).

A London-based journalist Sanjay Suri and another person Mukhtiar Singh have expressed readiness to depose for his alleged role in the case.

Kamal Nath was an accused in the case initially, but the court had found no evidence against him.

Kamal Nath is also facing the heat of the I-T department. The I-T department had conducted searches at 52 locations in April this year, including in Delhi and Madhya Pradesh, on charges of tax evasion and hawala transactions against close aides of the Chief Minister and others.

Meanwhile, Kamal Nath's nephew Ratul Puri was arrested by the ED last month in connection with a bank fraud case and his linkages with the AgustaWestland case.

Trouble is also mounting for Hooda.

The ED on August 27 filed a chargesheet against Congress-promoted Associated Journals Limited (AJL), Vora and Hooda in its probe into the money laundering case.

The AJL is controlled by senior Congress leaders, including members of the Gandhi family. The group runs the National Herald newspaper.

The ED had said the accused have been named in the chargesheet for their "direct" involvement in the process connected with acquisition, possession or projection of "proceeds of crime i.e. Plot No.C-17, Sector 6, Panchkula, to the tune of Rs 64.9 crore.

Congress interim President Sonia Gandhi's son-in-law Robert Vadra is also facing charges of money laundering in several land deals in Rajasthan and Haryana during the Congress regime. He has been questioned by the ED on several occasions.

Son of former Haryana Chief Minister Bhajan Lal, Kuldeep Singh Bishnoi is also on the I-T department radar. On August 27, the department had attached a benami property in the form of a hotel worth Rs 150 crore in Gurugram allegedly belonging to Bishnio and his brother. The property was attached under section 24(3) of the Prohibition of Benami Property Transactions Act, 1988.

According to the IT department officials, the agency attached Bristol Hotel, adding that the asset was owned in the name of Bright Star Hotel Pvt Ltd.

They said entity and its assets were benami assets of Bishnoi and Chander Mohan, sons of late former Chief Minister of Haryana Bhajan Lal.

The I-T department had carried out searches at several residential and official premises of Bishnoi in July this year.

(Anand Singh can be contacted at anand.s@ians.in)

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