BJP spokesperson Ashwini Upadhyay recently tweeted a 2013 report by The Times of India and claimed that Sonia Gandhi is richer than Queen Elizabeth-II and the Sultan of Oman. He circulated the claim on both Twitter and Facebook, drawing a combined share (plus retweet) count of nearly 1,600.
Upadhyay had tweeted the same article in 2015 as well.
Other BJP members – the party’s Delhi social media and IT cell head, Punit Agarwal, and co-convenor BJP Delhi IT and social media, Vikash Singh – also tweeted the TOI article on January 7. In fact, the claim is viral on Twitter.
A 6-year-old misreport
The 2013 report by TOI attributed the source of the information to Huffington Post, according to which, “Sonia Gandhi is the 12th richest political leader in the world.”
Alt News found that on November 29, 2013, Huffington Post had indeed published a story on the richest world leaders and placed Sonia Gandhi in the 12th position. 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 $19 billion.”
Investigating OpenSecrets.org and Business Insider
In a March 2, 2012 report titled – ‘Meet The 23 Richest Politicians In The World’ – Business Insider placed Gandhi 4th in the list, with the article claiming that her net worth was between US$ 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 Accessing an archived version of the ‘list of richest leaders’ created by the website revealed that it also placed Sonia Gandhi at the 4th place.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.
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 Gandhi’s net worth is between $2-19 billion, more than that of the Queen of England, are unfounded. The Times of India article, recently viral on social media, had republished the report by Huffington Post, which later removed Gandhi’s name as the source itself was not credible.
Alt News had debunked this misinformation earlier, regardless of which it is again being circulated widely.
TOI fails to clarify even after six years
The false claims about Sonia Gandhi’s net worth have been floating on social media for quite some time now. As revealed through the course of this article, the misinformation originated on a flimsy website (‘World’s Luxury Guide’) which doesn’t exist anymore. Media outlet Business Insider picked up the story, which was then used by Huffington Post and subsequently by The Times of India.
Upon realising that the source was not credible, Huffington Post retracted Gandhi’s name and added a clarification to its report. The Times of India, however, failed to do so, giving rise to the recent deluge of misinformation.
Both the article and TOI’s tweet are still present on the internet.
Shared by users followed by top BJP brass
The claim that ‘Sonia Gandhi is richer than Queen Elizbeth-II’ was shared on Twitter by many followed by top BJP leaders. Users Rohini Shah and Voice of Assam were among those who circulated the TOI article and are followed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The rumours circulating on social media are based on a 6-year-old misreport. There is no conclusive evidence or data that proves Sonia Gandhi’s net worth is between $2-19 billion, higher than that of the Queen of England.