The Central Bureau of Investigation on Tuesday carried out searches at the premises linked to social activist Teesta Setalvad for her firm Sabrang Communication and Publishing Pvt Limited allegedly receiving around $2.9 lakh in foreign donations in violation of Foreign Contribution Regulation Act.
The CBI, which had registered a case on July 8, alleged that SCPPL was not registered under FCRA for collecting money from abroad and the amount of nearly Rs 1.8 crore ($2.9 lakh) was, therefore, received in violation of the Act as the organisation needed to seek prior approval from Union home ministry, official sources said.
Armed with court warrants, the CBI sleuths searched four places including premises owned by Setalvad, her husband Javed Anand, an associate Gulam Mohammed Peshimam and the office of SCPPL.
The CBI, which is probing the firm’s accounts from 2004 to 2014, claimed to have recovered documents showing that the money had been received from a US-based NGO, Ford Foundation, and that it was not cleared by the home ministry, they said.
Terming Tuesday’s CBI action as a “political vendetta”, Setalvad, who was at fore front of campaign for 2002 Gujarat riots victims, said she was “surprised and shocked” over the CBI searches.
“We don’t understand the rationale behind this entire operation,” she said and hit out at CBI saying “we believe that it is a caged-parrot in operation and it’s a political vendetta and they are trying to humiliate and intimidate us”.
Rebutting her charges, CBI spokesperson Kanchan Prasad said the searches were being conducted after following the due process of law and also countered the cooperation claim of Setalvad, contending “as far as cooperation with CBI is concerned, they have not been able to explain the violation of the FCRA”.
After Tuesday’s searches, the CBI expects all the accused to join the investigations, the CBI spokesperson said.
CBI had registered a case after completing verification of all the documents submitted by the home ministry, which had referred them to the probe agency.
It was alleged that SCPPL violated FCRA by accepting a donation of $2.9 lakh from US-based Ford Foundation without getting clearance from the home ministry.
According to rules, an organisation or a private firm can accept donations from overseas only after it has been registered under FCRA. The donation was, therefore, a “serious violation” of FCRA provisions which mandate funding from a foreign source to only those recipients who have FCRA registration, home ministry had said while ordering a CBI probe.
A bank account of the firm located in Juhu, Mumbai, had also been frozen under instructions from the ministry.
The Gujarat government had asked the home ministry to take action against Ford Foundation, alleging that the US-based organisation was “interfering in internal affairs” of the country and also “abetting communal disharmony” through an NGO run by Setalvad.
In April, the government had ordered that funds from Ford Foundation should not be released by any bank to an Indian NGO without mandatory permission from the home ministry.
Setalvad and the Gujarat government have been locked in several legal tussles since the post-Godhra riots of 2002. While she has filed many cases against government
functionaries in connection with the riots, the state police have filed a case of alleged embezzlement of funds against her over promised construction of a memorial to the victims of the communal carnage.