Flagging international NGO Amnesty’s projects ‘Kashmir: Access to Justice’ and ‘Justice for 1984 Sikh Massacre’, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) has told a special court in New Delhi that Amnesty International UK routed over Rs 51 crore to an Indian arm in violation of laws to “fund anti-national activities in the guise of export of services”.
On July 9, the ED filed a prosecution complaint (equivalent to a chargesheet) against Amnesty International India Pvt Ltd (AIIPL), Indians for Amnesty International Trust (IAIT), and former AIIPL CEOs G Ananthapadmanabhan and Aakar Patel for alleged money laundering.
According to the ED chargesheet, Amnesty International, to further its activities in India, set up Amnesty International India Foundation Trust (AIIFT) in 1999. In 2011-12, when the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) came into effect, the NGO was granted prior permission by the government for receipt of foreign funds. But this was soon revoked following “adverse inputs” by government agencies.
The ED said Amnesty International then set up IAIT, a non-profit organisation, in 2012, and AIIPL (then known as Social Sector Research Consultancy & Support Services (India) Pvt Ltd), a for-profit commercial entity, in 2013.
The IAIT was supposed to be domestically-funded and carry out human rights related activities in India using these funds. The AIIPL, the ED said, was supposed to carry out the same work by charging a fee in the form of export of services via reports, organising campaigns etc.
The two entities, the ED said, had a similar set of office bearers, operated out of the same building, and throughout its existence, the AIIPL had just one major client: Amnesty International UK.
Once the two entities were established, the IAIT bought 99.8% stake in AIIPL with the rest being held by IAIT trustees, the ED said.
In 2015, Amnesty International UK invested Rs 10 crore by way of FDI into AIIPL. According to the ED, the AIIPL put Rs 9 crore in a fixed deposit. Against this FD, IAIT availed overdraft facility of over Rs 14 crore from a bank to fund its NGO activities.
Over the years, AIIPL itself got Rs 36 crore (including Rs 10 crore FDI) from Amnesty International UK against “export of services” related to preparing of human rights reports on various issues, organising campaigns and some technical services, the ED said.
This set-up, the agency claimed, was nothing but a way to circumvent FCRA and carry out NGO work in the name of commercial activities. The ED has called the entire money received by AIIPL and IAIT as proceeds of crime.
Amnesty officials, however, told ED in their statements that NGOs in many countries follow the model of setting up two entities – one for-profit and another not-for-profit — to carry out their activities and this was done after legal vetting.
Aakar Patel told The Sunday Express, “It’s for the state to prove that we have been involved in any wrongdoing. I don’t know what is their idea of anti-national. I don’t know of any law that stops us from doing what we were doing. There is nothing wrong in us floating a private limited company and Amnesty investing Rs 10 crore when the transaction has gone through RBI.”
The contracts that AIIPL took up from Amnesty International during this period included 12 related to ‘Technical Services’, six ‘Kashmir related activities/Access to Justice’ contracts, two ‘1984 Sikh Massacre related activities’ contracts, six ‘Corporate Accountability in Coal Sector’ contracts, three ‘Women related matters’ contracts, two contracts on ‘Issues related to Migrants rights’, eight contracts on ‘Public Awareness on Human Rights’, four on ‘Undertrial related issues’, and three on ‘Ready to Report’ (a campaign to report cases of sexual abuse).
The ED has picked two projects – ‘Justice for the 1984 Sikh Massacre’ and ‘Access to justice in J&K’ — for receiving significant foreign funds. While the former received GBP 2.5 lakh, the latter got GBP 5.95 lakh, the ED said.
It alleged that through these projects, AIIPL was supposed to generate public outrage through media pressure, public mobilisation through RTI, mobilisation of cadre support to build pressure on political parties, campaign through media, TV, radio etc., apart from ensuring that the 1984 Sikh massacre remains a key issue in the 2017 Punjab election manifesto.
On Kashmir, the ED said that apart from public campaign and advocacy, one of the contracts stated that “Groups like Human Rights Watch have said that courts-martial in India are highly biased and subject to corruption. The Supplier i.e. M/s AIIPL will seek to obtain details of court-martial proceedings, and analyze them to determine if they are transparent, independent, and impartial, aligned with international standards for fair trial proceedings, and constitute an effective remedy for victims of rights violations.”
The ED claimed that it appeared from the terms of services of the contracts that all services were NGO activities for which foreign funding needed an FCRA licence from the Ministry of Home Affairs.
“When the FCRA License was earlier cancelled during the year 2011-12 by Govt. of India due to the adverse inputs received from Intelligence agencies, the same activities are being run in the guise of commercial activities. This is highly suspicious when national interest is concerned. The money is routed from the M/s Amnesty International United Kingdom to M/s Amnesty International India Pvt Ltd in India to fund anti-national activities in the guise of export of services, which is nothing but the supply of report if any and doing campaigning, mass gatherings etc.,” the ED stated in its complaint to the court.
On July 9, Amnesty India rejected the allegations. In a Twitter post, it said, “We reiterate that the allegations of @dir_ed, a financial investigation agency under @FinMinIndia, that Amnesty International India was involved in ‘money laundering’, are patently untrue.”
“This violation is further reinforced by the selective leak of information to certain media channels without giving the organisation access to any such information,” it said.
“Since September 2020, the bank accounts of Amnesty International India remain frozen with no means to pay full dues to ex-employees or for the services of lawyers engaged to fight the multiple court cases initiated by the Government of India,” it said.