New Delhi: The Enforcement Directorate (ED) is probing alleged fraudulent foreign funds infusion of more than Rs 86 crore into a company that runs the NewsClick portal even as it is expected to soon file a charge sheet in the case being probed under the anti-money laundering law, official sources said on Monday.
NewsClick is again in the spotlight after a New York Times report claimed that the news portal was part of a global network that received funding from American billionaire Neville Roy Singham, who allegedly works closely with the Chinese government media machine.
Citing the report, Information and Broadcasting Minister Anurag Thakur on Monday said India had been telling the world since 2021 that NewsClick was a dangerous global network of “Chinese propaganda” that was spreading fake news.
The news portal and its promoters, including its founder and Editor-in-Chief Prabir Purkayastha, were raided by the ED in September 2021.
NewsClick issued a statement on Monday evening, claiming the allegations being made against it “by certain political actors and sections of the media are unfounded and without basis in fact or law”.
“Over the past 12 hours, various false and misleading allegations have been levelled against Newsclick which pertain to matters that are currently sub judice before courts in India. We respect the sanctity of the legal process and do not intend to indulge in a media trial,” the statement said.
According to the ED investigation, the company has claimed “receiving export remittance” of Rs 76.84 crore, Rs 1.61 crore, Rs 26.98 lakh and Rs 2.03 lakh from Justice and Education Fund Inc. USA, The Tricontinental Ltd. Inc. USA, GSPAN LLC USA and Centro Popular De Midas, Brazil respectively from March 2018 till it was searched by the agency in 2021.
The agency, according to sources, found “no evidence” of exporting services to these entities during the raids.
The sources said the federal agency will soon file a charge sheet.
It is also investigating a foreign direct investment (FDI) transfer of Rs 9.59 crore that was received in April 2018 “by way of subscription of shares” of PPK NEWSCLICK Studio Pvt. Ltd. from a company named Worldwide Media Holdings LLC, USA (a Delaware Limited Liability company) and, as per ED sources, it shut shop soon after this transfer of funds.
The ED suspects that the funds that were routed through Justice and Education Fund Inc. USA “belonged” to Neville Roy Singham, who the ED alleges is a “close confidant” of Purkayastha and a “Chinese emphasiser”.
The ED has recorded the statement of a shareholder of NewsClick’s owner company who said Singham was the “ultimate owner” of funds received from the Justice and Education Fund, USA and GSPAN LLC, USA.
The agency claimed that a scrutiny of the “funding pattern” of PPK NEWSCLICK Studio Pvt Ltd shows it was created to “upload anti-national news at the instance of Singham as he made all the investment by way of FDI and transferring of export proceeds.” It also alleged that the investor (Singham) was influencing the content of news on the portal, and hence this was a case of “paid news.” The agency also found that these funds received in the company were siphoned off for maintenance and renovation works of a flat in Saket locality of south Delhi allegedly linked to Purkayastha.
The ED has attached this flat worth Rs 4.52 crore and Purkayastha’s fixed deposits worth Rs 41 lakh earlier. It said the company paid Rs 17.08 lakh as salary to jailed activist Gautam Navlakha apart from other remittances made to some journalists.
Hitting out at the news portal on Monday, BJP leader and Union Minister Anurag Thakur alleged that China, NewsClick and the Congress are linked to an “anti-India umbilical cord”.
Addressing a press conference along with Union Minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar at the BJP headquarters here, Thakur said when Enforcement Directorate raids were conducted against NewsClick two years ago, the Congress and other opposition parties questioned the government’s action, raising the issue of press freedom.
The minister said, “If you see the funding network of NewsClick, it was funded by a foreigner, Neville Roy Singham and he gets funds from China. Neville Roy Singham has direct contact with the propaganda arm of the Communist Party of China and the Chinese media company Maku Group,” he said.
“They present fake news in the name of free news. Congress and other parties are supporting them,” he alleged.
As per NewsClick’s website, it is an independent media organisation dedicated to covering news from India and elsewhere with a focus on progressive movements. It was founded in 2009 and is owned by PPK NEWSCLICK Studio Private Limited and is located in south Delhi.