New Delhi: Online news portal NewsClick and its directors received over Rs 30.51 crore between March 2018 and March 2020 as “remittances with no credible source”, sources in the Enforcement Directorate (ED) told ThePrint Saturday. The remittances, they said, came from “chartered accountant companies based in the US that have the same address”.
The money received from these companies, the sources added, was used to make payments for “petty maintenance work”, to a “NewsClick stakeholder who maintains the social media accounts of the CPI(M)”, and to give “salary” to activist Gautam Navlakha, who is currently in jail for his alleged involvement in the Bhima Koregaon case.
The ED has been conducting raids at the office and homes of NewClick directors — and the offices of Editor-in-Chief Prabir Purkayastha — for the last three days.
The agency has taken cognisance of a Delhi Police FIR, registered by the Economic Offences Wing, to initiate a money laundering probe in this instance, sources said.
ThePrint reached NewsClick through email for a comment on the charges but there was no response by the time of publishing this report.
In a statement issued Friday, NewsClick described “selective leaks of misleading facts” as an attempt to “smear” the website and its journalists.
ThePrint contacted Navlakha’s lawyer through a WhatsApp message for a comment but there was no response till the publishing of this report.
Responding to ThePrint’s query, CPI(M) leader Brinda Karat said, “We have a social media team with many volunteers, among them are Bappaditya and Pranjal. All our volunteers can follow their own professional choices in which the party has no role. As a nationally recognised party, we have members in many organisations and firms.”
She added, “As far as NewsClick is concerned, the party has no involvement. However we strongly condemn the motivated ED raids to silence them as part of the assault on independent media.”
‘Petty maintenance work’
Sources in the ED said an amount of Rs 1.55 crore from the sum received was paid to one Joseph Raj, an “electrician and friend of Purkayastha for petty maintenance work”.
“This huge amount was paid to Raj, who is a ninth-grade passout, for petty maintenance but no documentation for corresponding work was found or produced,” a source said.
Another Rs 19 crore, the sources added, was allegedly paid by one Justice & Education Fund Inc. Other companies that allegedly sent money include Tricontinental Ltd Inc and G Span LLC, both based in the US.
“There is no credible source for these remittances that were paid over a period of two years. In the raids conducted in last three days and our investigation, we seized a lot of data that shows how this money was received. The money received could be more than this, it is under investigation,” a source in the ED said.
“The money has come from several companies but nothing is traceable. These are all chartered accountant companies having the same office address in Illinois, USA,” the source added.
According to sources, the money includes a remittance that was classified as FDI of Rs 9.59 crore in April 2018, and another of Rs 20.92 crore that was shown as money received for export of services.
‘Links with CPI(M), Navlakha and a defence company’
According to the ED sources, remittances to the tune of Rs 52.09 lakh were paid to one Bappaditya Singh, who has been described as a shareholder of PPK Newsclick Studio Pvt Ltd and also a member of the IT cell of the CPI(M) who maintains the Twitter handles of several party leaders.
“Singh, who is also a shareholder in NewsClick was being given a huge amount of the money that was flowing from abroad, which we suspect was used for maintaining social media handles of CPI(M),” the source quoted above said.
The online news portal, sources added, paid another Rs 20.53 lakh to activist Gautam Navlakha.
“Navlakha was also being paid money from the amount that was received. He is in jail so we will soon seek permission from the court to examine him in this case,” the source said.
ED sources also said Navlakha and Purkayastha incorporated a company called “Sagrika Process Analyst pvt Ltd” with the help of the investment received from one “Viking Systems International Inc. USA”, which they said was engaged in the business of military and naval supplies.
“Money was received from a US-based company that deals in defence equipment to incorporate another company by Navlakha and Purkayastha. The reason and source of the investment in the incorporation of this company was not disclosed and is a matter of investigation,” the source said.
‘Malicious attempt to discredit our journalism’
In its statement, NewsClick said the “selective leak of misleading facts is nothing but a malicious attempt to smear the image of NewsClick and discredit our journalism”.
“It also constitutes a violation of the sanctity of the legal and investigative process… These raids appear to be part of a trend of deploying government agencies against those who refuse to toe the establishment’s line,” it added.
This report has been updated to add CPM leader Brinda Karat’s comment on the issue.