‘Funds were received under ‘export of service’, and the portal spent Rs 115 crore it received from abroad’.
The questioning of NewsClick news portal’s arrested editor-in-chief Prabir Purkayastha and other employee has revolved around the remittances received under the head of export of service, how the portal spent Rs 115 crore it received from abroad and the topics of the portal’s stories, including a plan to use a map showing Arunachal Pradesh as disputed territory and not showing Kashmir in the map.
Sources said the news portal’s staff is alleged to have transferred foreign funds to NGOs and other rights activists, a charge denied by NewsClick. Law enforcers suspect the beneficiaries of these fund transfers were involved in unlawful activities or anti-government protests in league with Naxals. Associates of Teesta Setalvad also allegedly received funds from the news portal.
Amit Chakravarty, the administrative officer of the news portal, was also questioned by police on payments made to journalists, staff and consultants attached to the news portal.
Seventy six-year-old Purkayastha’s communications with the functionaries of a company called ThoughtWorks, allegedly funded by Shanghai-based American businessman Neville Roy Singham, are also under the scanner. The FIR against NewsClick and its editors were filed under UAPA Sections 13 (unlawful activities); 16 (terrorist act); 17 (raising funds for terrorist acts); 18 (conspiracy); 22 (C) (offences by companies, trusts); along with IPC Sections 153A (promoting enmity between different group) and 120B (criminal conspiracy).
Investigators suspect the news portal was involved in spreading Chinese propaganda in India and abroad through Singham’s funding network, an allegation that has been denied by NewsClick.
The Directorate of Enforcement had said in one of its documents that NewsClick’s parent company paid Rs 17.08 lakh as salary to jailed activist Gautam Navlakha apart from other remittances made to some journalists.
During Purkayastha’s police custody, the investigators questioned him about the operations of companies PPK Newsclick Studio Private Limited and PP Conectmedia Private Limited, both of which have their offices in the same premises in Saidulajab near Saket. Purkayastha joined the two companies as director in 2018 and 2017 respectively.
An FIR registered by Delhi Police said that PPK Newsclick Studio, received foreign direct investment (FDI) of Rs 9.59 crore from Worldwide Media Holdings LLC USA during the financial year 2018-19, in violation of the law.
A part of the foreign funds received by the company in the form of FDI were allegedly spent on upgradation of Digipub News India company’s office that is registered on the address D-132, Second Floor, Saket, said sources.
In August, The New York Times had published a report based on its investigation into the activities of Singham, 69, who has Sri Lankan roots. The NYT investigation showed that Singham, apparently used the email account Jamcanroy@gmail.com to communicate with his associates. In one of his emails of March, 2020, he discussed undertaking “Research for three article series on China and its handling of the virus”.
Purkayastha and Chakravarty were arrested on Tuesday after several hours of questioning. In all, 37 male suspects in the case were questioned at the premises, and nine female suspects were questioned at their respective places of stay.
On Wednesday, Purkayastha and Chakravarty were sent to police custody during which the investigators are believed to have confronted them with electronic data and evidence collected from laptops and computers seized from NewsClick’s offices. Abhisar Sharma, Paranjoy Guha Thakurta and other associates of the news portal were also called for questioning, amid speculations that more arrests could follow.
In a statement, NewsClick clarified that it does not publish any news or information at the behest of any Chinese entity or authority, directly or indirectly. It does not propagate Chinese propaganda on its website.
NewsClick does not take directions from Singham regarding the content published on its website and all funding received by NewsClick have been through the appropriate banking channels and has been reported to the relevant authorities as required by law, as substantiated by the RBI in proceedings before the Delhi High Court, it said.