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The Supreme Court today (Tuesday, Dec 4) gave the go-ahead to Income Tax (IT) department for the tax reassessment of Congress President Rahul Gandhi and his mother and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi for the year 2011-12 in a case related to the National Herald newspaper.

However, the Supreme Court bench headed by Justice AK Sikri restrained the department from implementing it during the pendency of their plea in the apex court. It ordered that the I-T team can take up reassessment only after the court hears Gandhis’ petition against the Delhi High Court judgment that had allowed the tax probe.

The court also said it is not expressing any opinion on the merits of pleas filed by the Gandhis. The next hearing in the matter is on January 8, 2018.

Rahul Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi and Congress leader Oscar Fernandes had petitioned against the reopening of their tax assessments related to Associated Journals Ltd (AJL), the publisher of National Herald newspaper.

The Delhi High Court had last month dismissed their petitions, clearing the way for the IT department to scrutinise records for the year 2011-12. The IT department has accused the Congress leaders of having “devised the scheme involving pre-ordinate artificial and fraudulent steps to take over AJL”.

The IT probe against the Congress leaders stems from an investigation into a complaint filed by BJP leader Subramanian Swamy before a court in connection with the National Herald case.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the IT department, said the court should not restrain it from implementing the assessment orders against the Gandhis and others. He said the court should hear the matter and pass appropriate orders.

Swamy had alleged that Young Indian Pvt Ltd (YIL), which had Sonia and Rahul on its board of directors, had “taken over” the assets of the defunct print media outlet in a “malicious” manner to gain profit and assets worth over Rs 2,000 crore, said a report in The Indian Express (IE).

Apart from the Gandhis, Congress leader Motilal Vora, Oscar Fernandes, journalist Suman Dubey and technocrat Sam Pitroda were also named in the case.

All the accused have denied the allegations levelled against them in the case. On December 19, 2015, court granted bail to Sonia and Rahul Gandhi, Vora, Fernandes and Dubey, who had appeared before it pursuant to summonses. Pitroda was also granted bail on February 20, 2016 when he had appeared in the court.

In the earlier hearing, a bench Justices A K Sikri and S A Nazeer observed that the matter needs “consideration”. The court said it was only concerned with the notice for reassessment, and the rest of the matter could be raised before the assessing officer. “Since respondent (Income Tax department) has put in appearance, we are not issuing a formal notice. However, we are fixing the matter for final arguments on December 4,” the bench said.

The court said it was willing to give two options to the department – either issue a notice and in the meanwhile, an assessing officer can go ahead but the final order will not be given effect, or to hear the matter and decide finally.

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