Saturday 21 May 2022
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Court finds money-laundering charge against Amnesty not ground enough to ground Aakar Patel

Patel had moved the court after he was stopped from boarding a flight to the United States last night, seeking permission to travel to the US till 30 May

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A court in Delhi has ordered the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to immediately withdraw the lookout circular issued against former Amnesty International India head Aakar Patel in connection with a Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) case. Patel had moved the court after he was stopped from boarding a flight to the United States last night, seeking permission to travel to the US till 30 May. Earlier, however, a money-laundering charge against Islamist journalist Rana Ayyub was good enough to not let her fly out of the country.

The court today advised the CBI director to apologise to Patel, acknowledging a lapse on part of his subordinate. “In this case, a written apology from the head of CBI acknowledging lapse on part of his subordinate to the applicant would go a long way in not only healing wounds of the applicant but also upholding trust and confidence of the public in the premier institution,” the court said.

In a strongly worded order, the court said that the lookout circular should not have been issued “merely on the basis of apprehensions arising out of whims and fancies of the investigating agency” and that the consequences on the rights of the affected person should have been foreseen before the circular was issued. “This act of the investigating agency has caused monetary loss of around Rs.3.8 lakh to the applicant/accused as he has missed his flight and he was not allowed to board because of the LOC issued against him,” the court said.

The leftist activist tweeted about the legal development and called the accusations of money laundering against Amnesty “absurd”. “The absurdity of accusing amnesty of criminality (of all things money laundering). ask amnesty wallahs how hard it is to get a comma or ampersand passed in a statement. This is a great org that I’m v proud of and honoured to call my community,” he said.

The court also asked the CBI director to sensitize the officials who are part of the issuance of the circular. “It is further expected that accountability of the concerned officials, in this case, be fixed,” the Rouse Avenue court in Delhi said in the order to the CBI to withdraw the LoC against Patel.

Patel suspects that his books critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi may be the reason that the government wants to stop him from speaking addressing people abroad. “‘Price of the Modi years’ was published in November 2021. The following month the loc (lookout circular) was opened,” he had tweeted.

Yesterday, Patel said that he was prevented from travelling despite a Gujarat court order granting him permission “specifically” for the trip.

CBI sources, however, said a court in Surat, Gujarat, had already permitted Patel to travel to the US in a case registered by Gujarat Police, but the lookout circular was still issued against him in connection with another case registered by the agency against Amnesty International India and others for alleged FCRA violations of worth Rs 36 crore in foreign funding.

Patel had approached a CBI court in Delhi seeking directions to the agency for the removal of the lookout circular issued against him.

Following a complaint lodged by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) for alleged violation of the provision of the FCRA, 2010, and the Indian Penal Code by NGOs, namely Amnesty International India, Indians For Amnesty International Trust (IAIT), Amnesty International India Foundation Trust (AIIFT) and Amnesty International South Asia Foundation (AISAF), the CBI had filed a case against them in November 2019. The case was registered against Amnesty International India Pvt Ltd (AIIPL), .

According to the MHA complaint, a payment of Rs 10 crore, classified as Foreign Direct Investment, was remitted to Amnesty India from its London office. Another Rs 26 crore has been remitted to Amnesty India, “primarily from UK-based entities”.

The Enforcement Directorate raided Amnesty’s Bangalore offices in 2018 in connection with a foreign exchange contravention case. The group had also faced sedition charges, later dropped, over a 2016 event to discuss alleged human rights violations in Kashmir.

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