Can a journalist raise money for relief work during a deadly global pandemic? Yes, unequivocally. Can the Enforcement Directorate attach assets belonging to the journalist for allegedly misusing the funds raised for charitable work under the Money Laundering Act? Absolutely. But United Nations human rights experts don’t think so, as they say that journalist Rana Ayyub is facing “misogynistic attacks” and “judicial harassment”.
It all began when the Enforcement Directorate (ED) attached funds belonging to Rana Ayyub worth Rs 1.77 crore, collected for relief work, lying unutilised in her account. This also includes a fixed deposit of Rs 50 lakh in her father’s name.
Under the smokescreen of relief work, the Washington Post columnist, Rana Ayyub, raised funds totalling Rs 2,69,44,680 on Ketto through three different fundraising campaigns between 2020 and 2021. She parked this amount in the bank accounts of her father, Mohammad Ayyub, and sister, Iffat Shaikh, which was subsequently transferred to her account.
According to the ED, since Rana Ayyub used her bank accounts, a tax of Rs 10.05 million was charged on the same, resulting in the charity money being taxed. She accepts utilising only Rs 40 lakh of the collected amount. However, one swallow does not make a summer. She had also submitted expense documents totalling Rs 31 lakh. However, after close examination and verification of the claimed expenses, the agency said that fake bills were prepared by Ayyub to claim expenses for relief work. Investigators say the real cost of running her air travel was only Rs 17,66,970, which is less than what she claimed.
Hilariously, Ayyub had deposited a total of Rs 74.50 lakh in PM CARES and the CM Relief Fund of Maharashtra 20 days after ED and Income Tax (IT) issued notices to her. This appears like an attempt to pacify government authorities to condone her crimes by giving a part of the amount received to the government-controlled charities. I can only imagine the level of betrayal the Left cabal must have felt after knowing this, because the long and short of it all is that Ayyub stands against Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and so do the people who are funding her.
If Ayyub’s donation to the PM CARES fund was pre-planned, she could’ve asked her donors to donate directly there, availing tax benefits. Contrary to the popular perception of the Left lobby, Ayyub’s selective activism, wanton propaganda, Hinduphobia, and blatant hypocrisy haven’t ever fructified into any real achievement because, under the semblance of fighting injustice, lies her uncanny quest for paint PM Modi and his government dark.
Also, Ayyub received foreign donations without the necessary clearance under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), clearly violating the law. Ketto, the fundraising platform, had informed her that out of Rs 2.69 crore collected by her, $1.09 lakh (around Rs 75-80 lakh) were foreign donations. In a fumbled justification of this, she said that Ketto acted as the intermediary and had converted foreign donations to Indian rupees before transferring them to her account. This is the first place where she has violated Foreign Contribution Regulation Act, 2010 (FCRA).
As per FCRA, only those entities registered with the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and have the licence to accept foreign contributions are allowed to receive foreign funds as donations. Ayyub did not take that permission. This is her first mistake. Her second mistake is that only NGOs registered a Section 8 Company under Companies Act, 2013 or Section 25 of Companies Act, 1956 or a Society registered under the Societies law of the state or a charitable trust registered under the Public and Charitable Trusts law of the state can accept foreign funds as donations. Ayyub accepted money in her personal capacity, in violation of law. This is the first reason the Enforcement Directorate (ED) has raided her premises and seized the ill-acquired money that is done in violation of law.
If that were not enough, Ayyub made the third mistake. As per FCRA, any individual who receives Rs 1 lakh or more from a foreign source, for donating to a good cause, is required to report that receipt of funds to MHA. Here again, she erred by not reporting the amount of $1.09 lakh (around Rs 75-80 lakh) to MHA. This raises questions on her intent. This is another reason for ED raiding her premises and seizing all the money.
Her fourth mistake is that she diverted the money received for charitable work for her personal use and diverted a part of the fund into her father’s and sister’s account. This is not only a gross violation of law, but also a breach of faith of all supporters who believed that she would put the money to good use.
If at all Ayyub intended to do some real charitable work, she could have reached out to her Chartered Accountant or lawyer and asked him/her to start a proper NGO registered with either the Central or the state government, besides taking prior permission from the MHA. There is a provision in FCRA that allows newly incorporated NGOs without any track record of charity, to raise funds from abroad. However, Ayyub did not deem it right to even follow this provision of FCRA that facilitates newcomers with global connections and reputation to raise foreign donations with prior approval of the government. This cannot be considered an error, but looks like a systematic plan to undermine the government and its laws and in turn undermine the nation.
Unbeknownst to the layman, and surprisingly to an alleged "senior journalist", that money is still considered foreign money. The current Central Government in 2020 noted that the recipients of foreign donations were in violation concerning their usage. Taking cognisance of this, the government cancelled certificates of registration of more than 19,000 recipient organisations, including non-governmental organisations, between 2011 and 2019, along with criminal investigations against NGOs engaging in misuse of foreign funds.
In her statement, the columnist said, “It is abundantly clear that no part of the relief campaign fund remains unaccounted for, and there is absolutely no scope for any allegation of misuse of the funds for personal expenses. Such allegations are preposterous, wholly mala fide and belied by the record and a delivered misreading of my bank accounts.” Interestingly, even though she has denied any fraud, she has agreed to all the aforementioned points, not utilising funds for their intended purpose and also wasting charity money towards tax payment.
However, this didn’t stop the Left clique from justifying a million inconsistencies and obvious loopholes in Rana’s bizarre claims. Defend the indefensible, must be the slogan of the Left rag. All this even when Rana’s point-by-point rebuttal has validated every single charge that the ED has levelled against her. And as usual, there has been uproar from the commentariats and politicians, feeding on the crumbs thrown by the Lutyens’ lobby, accusing the Central government of misusing the agencies for ‘harassment’ and an attempt to ‘silence dissent’. But as the Navajo saying goes, you can’t wake a person pretending to be asleep.
Yuvraj Pokharna is an educationist and social activist from Surat. Sumeet Mehta is a Chartered Accountant by qualification and a follower of the Indic civilisation by choice. Views expressed are personal.