The government has given the sanction to prosecute former Amnesty India head Aakar Patel for alleged violation of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, sources told CNN-News18 on Tuesday.
Sources said a letter to the effect was reportedly submitted before the relevant court at Rouse Avenue in the national capital on Monday evening, days after Patel was controversially stopped at the Bengaluru airport from flying to the US.
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) had filed a chargesheet against Amnesty India and its former head Aakar Patel for alleged FCRA violation last December. But the trial could not begin then as no sanction to prosecute was given by the government.
Patel was on April 6 stopped from leaving the country at the Bengaluru international airport in the wake of a CBI look out circular (LOC) issued on December 31 last year in the FCRA case. Patel has claimed that the action was taken despite an order by a Gujarat court permitting him to travel to the US.
“I don’t know why I am on the lookout circular. I did not know about it that I could not fly. I missed my flight and now I am back home. They (immigration officials) did not let me go,” news agency PTI had quoted Patel as saying.
He said that there was a case filed against him by a BJP MLA in Surat for which his passport had been impounded. “The court released my passport. I got my visa. I went to the airport. I was stopped at immigration. I was told that I am on a lookout circular, that’s the word that was used, from the CBI for the case that they had filed against the Amnesty in which I have neither been arrested nor I am on bail.”
The next day, the special CBI court in the Rouse Avenue District Court Patel had moved, directed the CBI to withdraw the LOC and apologise to him. However, on Friday, a Delhi court barred Patel from leaving the country and stayed the previous order on withdrawing the LOC and issuing an apology.
What are the Charges?
The LOC was reportedly issued on the basis of the chargesheet filed by the CBI in a special CBI court in Delhi on December 31, 2021 for the alleged violation of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 2010.
The chargesheet was filed against Patel and Amnesty International under Section 11 read with Sections 35 and 39 of the Act after a two-year probe into alleged violations.
The CBI had raided the human rights watchdog’s offices in Bengaluru and New Delhi in November 2019. In 2018, the Enforcement Directorate had raided the Amnesty International India office in connection with a foreign exchange contravention case.
Back then, the organisation had alleged harassment and had claimed that it stands in full compliance with Indian and international law.
What is FCRA Violation?
The CBI case was registered against Amnesty International India Pvt Ltd (AIIPL), Indians For Amnesty International Trust (IAIT), Amnesty International India Foundation Trust (AIIFT), Amnesty International South Asia Foundation (AISAF) and others in November 2019.
It was alleged that the provision of the FCRA and IPC were contravened by the entities by receiving foreign contributions from Amnesty International UK through AIIPL even though prior registration or permissions were denied to AIIFT and other trusts under FCRA.
According to a complaint filed by the Home Ministry to the CBI, AIIPL is a ‘for-profit’ company. It was observed that London-based Amnesty International worked through four companies, which have been named by the CBI in the case.
It is alleged that a payment of Rs 10 crore, classified as Foreign Direct Investment, was remitted to Amnesty India from the London office without taking the Home Ministry’s approval. Another Rs 26 crore has been remitted to Amnesty India, “primarily from the UK based entities”, a PTI report said.
“All such receipts have subsequently been expended on Amnesty’s NGO activities in India, in violation of FCRA”.
It alleged that Amnesty made several attempts to obtain prior permission or registration under FCRA, failing which, it used “commercial methods to evade FCRA”.
It further alleged that Amnesty India received funds for purposes like ‘service contract’, ‘advance income’ and FDI through the automatic route. Out of the Rs 36 crore received, Rs 10 crore were remitted as FDI, Rs 26 crore as payment for consultancy services, it claimed.
The UK-based Amnesty International invested Rs 10 crore to AIIPL on September 24, 2015. The amount was classified as ‘compulsory convertible debenture’ but was shown in Income Tax returns as “long-term borrowing”.
With PTI inputs