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Delhi Police searches residences of The Wire founders Siddharth Varadarajan, M K Venu

This comes two days after BJP IT cell head Amit Malviya lodged a complaint against The Wire and the editors for “tarnishing his reputation” with their now retracted report that he used his special privileges at tech giant Meta to take down over 700 social media posts.

The Wire founder Siddharth Varadarajan and editor M K Venu. (Twitter)

The Delhi Police on Monday conducted searches at news portal The Wire’s office and at the homes of its founders, Siddharth Vardarajan, Sidharth Bhatia and M K Venu, and deputy political editor Jahnavi Sen. Senior police officers said electronic devices were seized from the portal’s New Delhi office as well as the residences. Bhatia is based in Mumbai while the other three reside in Delhi.

This comes two days after BJP IT cell head Amit Malviya lodged a complaint against The Wire and the editors for “tarnishing his reputation” with their now retracted report that he used his special privileges at tech giant Meta to take down over 700 social media posts.

The Delhi Police had booked Vardarajan and the others under IPC Sections 420 (cheating), 468 (forgery with the purpose of cheating), 469 (forgery for harming reputation), 471 (using forged document), 500 (defamation), 120B (criminal conspiracy) and 34 (common intention).

“As part of the investigation, the Crime Branch teams went to the homes and collected devices. The same was done at The Wire office. Nobody was questioned or detained. We haven’t taken any legal action,” a senior police officer told The Indian Express.

“For now, we have only taken electronic devices from their offices and other places. These will be checked and enquiry will be conducted. Only after this will we take appropriate action,” said another officer.

The matter is being investigated by the inter-state cell of the Crime Branch. The searches at their homes lasted hours, following which The Wire’s office in New Delhi district was searched too.

A source in the Mumbai Police, too, confirmed that a police team from Delhi had reached out to a police station in South Mumbai around 7 pm on Monday seeking their support with regard to an “investigation in a cheating case”. The team then went to Bhatia’s residence in Churchgate.

The source said that five police teams were formed for carrying out investigations in the case, and two of them went to Maharashtra — one each in Pune and Mumbai. One team was sent to Gaya, in Bihar, while two teams were carrying out investigations in Delhi.

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Vardarajan, Venu and Sen did not respond to calls and messages about the searches. A day earlier, Vardarajan had filed a police complaint against their researcher, Devesh Kumar, for alleged fabrication of documents and forgery. The complaint had stated that The Wire’s reporting on Meta and Malviya were based on emails forwarded by Kumar.

“It is clear to us that Devesh Kumar has a malintent towards The Wire and its editors and staff and has fabricated and supplied documents, emails and other material such as videos with a view to damaging The Wire and its reputation,” the complaint said. Delhi Police have not lodged an FIR based on the complaint so far.

In the FIR lodged against The Wire, Malviya had stated: “Shockingly, until date the accused persons have refrained from issuing an apology addressed to me. This is even despite the fact that their reports and fabricated material have maligned and tarnished my reputation. Further on 28.10.2022, The Wire on its Twitter handle admitted that they had been running a false and fabricated story… I state that this clearly shows that the accused were determined to run a campaign built on surmises and weak suppositions that they attempted to justify through fabricated documents… The above forged reports of the accused person have caused serious harm to my professional career and reputation… [the] false, fabricated and malicious reports have also tarnished the image of BJP in the eyes of the public at large. The BJP, currently having a majority in Parliament and many states, has suffered a huge reputational loss.”

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In October, The Wire claimed Meta had given certain special privileges to Malviya through its XCheck programme, where he could take down posts on Instagram and other platforms which are critical of the government or the BJP while having the privilege to post anything without Instagram rules applying to him. The Wire claimed that its reports were based on a document “sourced” from an alleged Meta insider. This was denied by Meta, which called the document fake.

Following this, The Wire published a series of articles defending the report, citing what it called “internal emails” of Meta, which have all turned out to be fake. Since then, The Wire has retracted the report and issued an apology to its readers taking “moral responsibility for the omission”.– With ENS, Mumbai

Despite a categorical denial from Meta that the report had cited fake documents, The Wire published follow-up stories and its retraction and apology did not mention him “despite tarnishing my image”, Malviya said.

A day after Malviya’s complaint, The Wire had filed a complaint against its researcher Devesh Kumar with the Economic Offences Wing of the Delhi Police. “The complaint has been filed against Devesh Kumar who is allegedly involved in the fabrication of documents and forgery. This is in connection with all the Meta stories that were published this month,” said an officer.

In October, The Wire claimed Meta had given certain special privileges to Malviya through its XCheck programme, where he could take down any content on Meta that he thought was critical of the government or the BJP while having the privilege to post anything without Instagram rules applying to him. The Wire claimed that its reports were based on a document “sourced” from an alleged Meta insider. This was denied by Meta, which called the document fake. Following this, The Wire published a series of articles defending the report, citing what it called “internal emails” of Meta, which have all turned out to be fake. Since then, The Wire has retracted the story and issued an apology to its readers taking “moral responsibility for the omission”.

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First published on: 31-10-2022 at 18:50 IST
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