News18 Hindi broadcasted a debate on January 25 where the topic of discussion was Priyanka Gandhi’s entry into politics before the 2019 general elections. During the over 45-minute show, BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra claimed that Sonia Gandhi is the 4th richest woman in the world. At 26:40 minutes he can be heard attributing this information to Huffington Post.
Patra makes the claim to support his argument that the Indian National Congress is a party of thieves. He says – “मैं आपको इसका इक्ज़ाम्पल देना चाहता हूँ – हफ़्फिंगटन पोस्ट 4th रिचेस्ट वुमन ऑफ़ द वर्ल्ड सोनिया गाँधी। क्या काम किया सोनिया गाँधी जी ने जो 4th रिचेस्ट वुमन ऑफ़ द वर्ल्ड बन गयी? आप मुझे बताइए आज कौन सी इंडस्ट्री है उनकी, कौन सी खेती है उनकी…ये उत्तर मुझे आज कांग्रेस के प्रवक्ता से चाहिए। (Let me give you an example of this – Sonia Gandhi is the 4th richest woman in the world, according to Huffington Post. What work has Sonia Gandhi done to become the 4th richest woman in the world? You tell me what industry does she own? What plantations does she own?…I want Congress’s spokesperson to answer this question today.)”
Patra quotes a 6-year-old misreport
On November 29, 2013, Huffington Post had published a story on the richest world leaders and placed Sonia Gandhi in the 12th position (not 4th as claimed by Patra). However, the former INC President’s name was subsequently removed from the story as the information’s source, as clarified later by Huffington Post, was “called into question.”
A December 2013 report by India Today had found that Huffington Post’s claims about Gandhi’s net worth were based on a report published by a website called Celebrity Net Worth which routinely writes on celebrity finances.
According to the website, “She (Sonia Gandhi) personally states her wealth to be between $200,000 and $500,000, but several sources including OpenSecrets.org and Business Insider have estimated that Sonia’s actual wealth could be as low as $2 billion and might be as high as $19 billion.”
Alt News had investigated OpenSecrets.org and Business Insider in the past when union women and child development minister Maneka Gandhi had made a similar claim about the former Congress president and her sister-in-law.
In a March 2, 2012 report titled – ‘Meet The 23 Richest Politicians In The World’ – Business Insider placed Gandhi 4th in the list, with the article claiming that her net worth was between US$ 2-19 billion.
The Business Insider story hyperlinked a website named ‘World’s Luxury Guide’ as its source. It also said that there are some disputes about Gandhi’s actual net worth and that the ‘National Election Watch’ put the same at US$200,000 (approximately Rs 1.35 crores at that time).
The website ‘World’s Luxury Guide’ has been taken down since over a year. Accessing an archived version of the ‘list of richest leaders’ created by the website revealed that it also placed Sonia Gandhi at the 4th place. ‘World’s Luxury Guide’ had provided opensecret.org, forbes.com, bloomberg.com, wikipedia.org and guardian.co.uk as its sources.
Forbes had published an article in 2011 titled – ‘India’s 100 Richest’ – which does not include Gandhi’s name. In 2012, The Guardian had published a report on the world’s richest leaders, however, it too did not include Gandhi. On Bloomberg, Alt News back-searched till 2010 but found nothing of relevance. The remaining attribution provided by Business Insider – OpenSecret – has never written any report on the former Congress President.
Thus, none of the sources enlisted by ‘World’s Luxury Guide’ had the data to back up the claim of Sonia Gandhi being the world’s 4th richest politician. Moreover, the name of the website itself should indicate that it is not a source that could be trusted.
Alt News had debunked this last year as well when a similar claim was widespread on social media.
The other source mentioned by Business Insider was ‘National Election Watch,’ claiming that it put Sonia Gandhi’s net worth at US$200,000 (approximately Rs 1.37 crore in 2012).
Accessing the link redirected us to a report that provided the assets declared by Gandhi before 2004, 2009 and 2014 Lok Sabha elections. The latest figures (2014) put her net worth at over Rs 9.28 crore. As the Business Insider article was published in 2012, it must have referred to the figures Gandhi had disclosed in 2009 – Rs 1.37 crore. This matched the “disputed net worth” claims on Business Insider.
A compendium published by the Association for Democratic Reform (ADR) in 2012 had also put Gandhi’s assets at Rs 1.37 crore. In 2014, India Today provided copies of Gandhi’s nomination papers before the Rae Bareli Lok Sabha elections, according to which she declared total movable assets to the tune of Rs 2.82 crore.
The evidence at hand suggests that the claims that Sonia Gandhi’s net worth is between $2-19 billion are unfounded. Earlier this month, BJP spokesperson Ashwini Upadhyay had also made the incorrect assertion, quoting a 6-year-old Times of India story based on the Huffington Post article.