The money trail linked to alleged illegal foreign funds received by controversial news portal NewsClick is directing Enforcement Directorate (ED) investigators towards entities in Brazil and about half-a-dozen Indian companies in which a senior editor of the website was playing the role of a director. The Brazil connection is in addition to the funds the portal received from the US for offering consultancy, said sources. The Indian companies under the scanner are scattered across South Delhi neighbourhoods like Chittaranjan Park, Shivalik, Sanik Farms and Zamrudpur near Greater Kailash. “Some companies may have been opened or used to channel foreign inward remittance,” said a source, adding that a few foreign entities have also been sent letters rogatory as part of the investigation.
NewsClick, on its part, has denied any wrongdoing and claimed that its foreign fund transactions are in compliance with the law. Even as the enforcement agency awaits forensic reports on analysis of electronic devices seized from NewsClick Studio and a South Delhi flat of one of the portal’s associates, investigators have started questioning accountants who helped the company receive Rs 85 crore export remittance from abroad and filed tax related documents.
Sources said the name of American media mogul Neville Roy Singham also cropped up during questioning, with one stakeholder in the NewsClick’s parent company virtually admitting that the Shanghai-based baron was the owner of funds sent by an America institution to the news portal.
According to the ED investigation, the news portal’s parent company has claimed “receiving export remittance” of Rs 76.84 crore from Justice and Education Fund Inc. in the US, Rs 26.98 lakh from GSPAN LLC USA, Rs 2.03 lakh from Centro Popular De Midas in South America and Rs 1.61 crore from The Tricontinental Ltd. Inc. in the US between March 2018 till September 2021.
The probe agency has raised questions on foreign inward remittance of Rs 9.59 crore in 2018 under the garb of subscription to shares of NewsClick. The agency said each share with face value of Rs 10 was picked up at a premium of Rs 11,510 per share by a dubious foreign firm named Worldwide Media Holdings. Sources said the shares of the company were overvalued to bypass the alleged limit of 26% of FDI in digital news website. During investigation, NewsClick Studio’s management was also questioned on Rs 28.46 crore received from abroad as “consultancy fee”.
What NewsClick has to say
While the BJP kicked up a political storm by reviving the two-year-old ED probe, the news portal tried to stayed clear of controversy by describing some aspects of the matters as sub-judice. The portal said various false and misleading allegations have been levelled against NewsClick.
“We respect the sanctity of the legal process and do not intend to indulge in a media trial. The allegations being made against us by certain political actors and sections of the media are unfounded and without basis in fact or law.”
Prabir Purkayastha, Editor-in-Chief, NewsClick, said the portal is an independent news organisation, and “any insinuation that we function as a mouth-piece of the Communist Party of China or other interests is false. We reiterate our faith in the Indian courts, and are confident that NewsClick has, and continues to function in accordance with Indian law.”