CBI raids Amnesty International office in Bengaluru

The CBI on Friday conducted searches at the offices of Amnesty International India (AII) in Bengaluru in connection with alleged violations of rules related to foreign funding.

The searches came after the CBI acted on a complaint filed by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and registered a case against Amnesty International India Pvt Ltd (AIIPL), Indians For Amnesty International Trust (IAIT), Amnesty International India Foundation Trust (AIIFT) and Amnesty International South Asia Foundation (AISAF) on November 5.

Quoting the MHA complaint, the CBI said the Amnesty India circumvented provisions of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act and Indian Penal Code by receiving foreign contributions from Amnesty International UK through AIIPL even though its licence to collect foreign funds and prior permissions were denied to it.

The MHA said Amnesty International (UK) was using its India-based four companies or Trusts -- AIIPL, IAIT, AIIFT and AISAF – to send funds. None of these four organisations had permission to receive foreign funds.

It claimed the Amnesty's UK-arm remitted Rs 10 crore to its Indian entities classified as Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) without the government's approval. Another Rs 26 crore classified as consultancy services was also remitted primarily from UK-based entities without approval.

All such funds were subsequently spent on NGO activities in India in violation of the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act.

The inspection of account books, the MHA claimed, found that Amnesty had indulged in activities which were not commensurate to the activities of a for-profit company but would amount to circumvent FCRA provisions.

The MHA also stated that Amnesty UK invested Rs 10 crore AIIPL in September 2015, which was classified as Compulsory Convertible Debentures and shown in the balance sheet and IT returns as Long Term Borrowings.

This amount was immediately placed in fixed deposits on which IAIT obtained an overdraft facility (ODF) for Rs 14.25 crore. This ODF was used for Amnesty India's NGO activities, including providing a salary to employees and for administrative and operational expenses.

According to sources, the CBI sleuths who began their raids in the morning continued with their search until late evening. “A team of CBI officials visited our office in Indiranagar in the morning and they were at the office until evening verifying and examining various records,” a volunteer at Amnesty International, Bengaluru told DH.

One of the spokespersons of the NGO revealed that the raids were in connection with the previous searches carried out by the ED in 2018. “Today’s search was nothing afresh as it was linked to the previous raids. All the details that were asked by the officials were as same as the old exercise and we extended all the cooperation all through the search,” the spokesperson revealed.  

In October 2018, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) had conducted searches in its Bengaluru office accusing it of violation of Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) while in August this year, the agency served a show-cause notice on Amnesty International India for alleged violation of the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA) involving Rs 51.72 crore.

The ED had accused the Amnesty India of receiving remittances from its parent body Amnesty International UK disguised as export of services. However, it is alleged, this money was used for rendering civil society activities.

However, in a statement, the Amnesty denied any wrongdoing and said the searches were at the offices of AII Pvt Ltd and Indians for Amnesty International Trust.

"Over the past year, a pattern of harassment has emerged every time Amnesty India stands up and speaks out against human rights violations in India...Our work in India, as elsewhere, is to uphold and fight for universal human rights. These are the same values that are enshrined in the Indian Constitution and flow from a long and rich Indian tradition of pluralism, tolerance, and dissent," the statement said.

Earlier this February, three United National Special Rapporteurs wrote to the Indian government expressing serious concerns at the "smear campaign" and actions taken against Amnesty International India and Greenpeace, saying the ability to access foreign funding is an integral part of the right to freedom of association.

The Rapporteurs said on Amnesty India, "concern is expressed at the alleged smear campaign against Amnesty International India, in what seems to be an attempt to tarnish the organisation’s reputation in the absence of formal charges. The ostensible leak of a dossier on Amnesty India allegedly by the Enforcement Directorate based on its ongoing investigations indicates a potentially deliberate attempt by the government to tarnish Amnesty India’s reputation."

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