Eighteen months after cancelling the licence of 'Lawyers Collective' to collect foreign funds was cancelled, the CBI has registered a case against the Mumbai-based NGO and its president senior lawyer Anand Grover on charges of violating rules related to receiving money from abroad.
The CBI action came on a complaint by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) filed on May 15 seeking an investigation into the violations of Foreign Contribution Regulation Act 2010 as well as the "attempt, abetment and conspiracy" to circumvent the law.
The MHA's Foreigners Division also want the CBI to intimate other agencies like the Income Tax Department and the Enforcement Directorate if it comes to its notice about violations of Income Tax and money laundering laws.
The Lawyers Collective has denied any wrongdoings in a recent press statement saying the allegations mis-utilisation of any funds was false.
The CBI FIR mentions Grover, the NGO, its unknown office-bearers and unknown officials as accused but does not name former Additional Solicitor General (ASG) and Lawyers Collective member Indira Jaising, who is also Grover's wife. However, allegations against Jaising has found mention in the complaint, which was similar to the one in the show cause notice to the NGO earlier, and part of the FIR.
According to the FIR, the NGO, which has been registered for carrying out "social activities", has received a foreign contribution of around Rs 32.39 crore between 2006-07 and 2014-15 before its licence was suspended and later cancelled in October 2016.
One of the allegations was that Jaising, while being ASG (2009 to 2014), had received Rs 96.60 lakh as remuneration from the foreign contributions received by Lawyers Collective, which also funded some of her foreign travels.
The ministry said the ASG is paid from the Consolidated Fund of India and that carries out “very sensitive and high-level work”, including giving advice to the government on legal issues and appearing in Supreme Court and High Courts on its behalf.
According to the MHA, she violated the FCRA by "not seeking clearances from the government for receiving foreign contributions in the form of remuneration from the organisation and accepting foreign hospitality while visiting a foreign country".
In its complaint, the MHA claimed that the on-site inspection of account books and records of Lawyers Collective conducted in January 2016 showed several violations like using funds for political activities (organising protests for HIV/AIDS Bill), advocacy of MPs and foreign travel and accommodation of Grover.
Besides, the MHA claimed the NGO organised a free-trade agreement rally and held "paid dharnas" on the HIV/AIDS Bill outside the Law Ministry. It said Rs 13.03 lakh were found to have been spent on air travel, boarding and lodging, local travel of trustees and various contractual employees for drafting the HIV AIDS Bill in violation of rules.
Providing further details, it also said, “an amount of Rs 88,978 was paid to Delhi Network of Positive People after entering into an agreement for the arrangement of up to 250 people Rs 200 per person (Rs 100 for conveyance and Rs 100 for food) to hold dharna for HIV/AIDS Bill outside Law Ministry. To hold paid dharnas by utilisation of foreign contribution is in violation of FCRA 2010.”
The utilisation of foreign funds for advocacy, indulging in lobbying with MPs and thereby, influencing the political process and parliamentary institutions is in clear violation of the "letter and spirit" of the Act, it said.