Chinese telecom giants, shell companies, 'illegal funds' find place in Delhi Police FIR on NewsClick

NewsClick founder-editor Prabir Purkayastha and the portal’s administrator Amit Chakravarty were arrested on 3 October under the controversial UAPA

NewsClick founder Prabir Purkayastha (photo: NewsClick/ Facebook)
NewsClick founder Prabir Purkayastha (photo: NewsClick/ Facebook)

Ashlin Mathew

In its first information report (FIR) against NewsClick, Delhi Police has claimed that the news portal received "illegal funds" from companies related to the Communist Party of China to disrupt the sovereignty of India with the help of Chinese telecom majors such as Xiaomi and Vivo. The key person, the FIR claims, behind this activity is Gautam Bhatia, who conspired to create a legal community to campaign, and put up a spirited defence for the Chinese telecom companies.

The FIR has also claimed that both Xiaomi and Vivo have “incorporated thousands of shell companies in India in violation of Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) and Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA) for illegally infusing foreign funds in India in furtherance of this conspiracy".

Notably, Xiaomi has previously contributed to the PM Cares Fund, while Vivo was the title sponsor for the popular T20 cricket Indian Premier League from 2016-19 and again in 2021 before Tata took over in 2022.

NewsClick founder-editor Prabir Purkayastha and the portal’s administrator Amit Chakravarty were arrested on 3 October under the controversial Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), after the Delhi Police raided and questioned 46 journalists and writers, most of who seem to be associated with NewsClick though not all are employees.

The current case purportedly has its roots in an August 2023 report by the New York Times, which claimed that NewsClick was funded by a network linked to US-based tech mogul and millionaire Neville Roy Singham to allegedly promote Chinese propaganda.

The FIR has named Purkayastha, activist and Bhima-Koregaon case accused Gautam Navlakha, and Singham, invoking multiple sections of the UAPA (13,16,17,18,22c) and sections 153A and 120B of the Indian Penal Code. The UAPA sections involve unlawful activity, terrorism, raising funds for terrorism, conspiracy and threatening witnesses, while the IPC sections involve promoting enmity between groups and criminal conspiracy.

Though Bhatia has been named as a key conspirator in the case, he has never appeared for a case involving either the Chinese telecom companies or NewsClick. He has handled mostly only human rights cases and runs a popular legal blog titled 'Indian Constitutional Law and Philosophy', and when contacted, told National Herald that he did not wish to comment on the FIR.

Without specifying the means, the FIR claims that “fraudulent funds in crores of rupees have been received by PPK NewsClick Studio Pvt Ltd through illegal means during a short span of five years from Worldwide Media Holding LLC” since April 2018. PPK NewsClick Studio is the company which owns

Purkayastha, Chakravarty, Amit Sengupta, Doraeeswami Raghunandan, Bappaditya Sinha, Gautam Navlakha, Githa Hariharan, and Worldwide Media Holding LLC are shareholders of PPK NewsClick Studio, the FIR states.

The FIR also claims that Tricontinental India and GSPAN India were set up by Tricontinental USA “to infuse funds in India by circumventing the existing rules for receipt of foreign funds by NGOs”.

Tricontinental Institute for Social Research is an international research institute which "draws on Marxism for inspiration", according to their website. Vijay Prashad is the executive director of the organisation and Singham the chairman of its international advisory board. Senior journalists such as P Sainath and Aijas Ahmad are fellows of the organisation. GSPAN is also owned by Singham.

The 70-year-old Navlakha was arrested in April 2020 in connection with the Bhima-Koregaon case and has been charged under UAPA. He was in Taloja jail for two years and is now under house arrest in Mumbai owing to his deteriorating health.

Casting a wide net, the FIR also names several journalists and accuses them of having received funds from these companies, though several of them are simply employees of, and contributors to, the news portal.

The FIR also states that Purkayastha has been associated with Navlakha since 1991, when they incorporated Sagrik Process Analyst Pvt Ltd, though the FIR has not mentioned why the incorporation of the company was a problem.

Delhi Police have also claimed that Purkayastha, Singham and some Chinese employees of Singham's Shanghai-based company StarStream have exchanged emails which expose their intent to show Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh as not parts of India.

“Such attempts by these persons reveal their conspiracy to peddle a narrative, both globally and domestically, that Kashmir are disputed territories. Their attempts to tinker with northern parts of India and to show Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh as not parts of India in maps amount to act intended towards undermining the unity and territorial integrity of India,” claims the FIR.

Without elaborating, the FIR also claims, “In furtherance of this conspiracy to disrupt sovereignty of India and to cause disaffection against India, large amount of funds were routed from China in circuitous and camouflaged manner and paid news were intentionally peddled criticising domestic policies, development projects of India and promoting , projecting and defending policies and programmes of Chinese government.”

The FIR states that Purkayastha conspired with a group named People’s Alliance for Democracy and Secularism (PADS) to sabotage the electoral process during 2019 general elections. “The key individuals of this group who were involved in this conspiracy are Battini Rao (Convenor, PADS), Dilip Simeon, Deepak Dhoulakia, Harsh Kapoor, Jamal Kidwai, Kiran Shaheen, Sanjay Kumar, Asit Das, etc.”

The FIR claims that these “accused persons have also conspired to disrupt supplies and services essential to the life of the community in India and abet damage and destruction of property by protraction of farmers’ protest through such illegal funding. It is learnt that for this purpose, a mutually beneficial nexus was established between some Indian entities and inimical foreign establishments. The objective of the above nexus was to promote, support each other for the purpose of backing, supporting, funding farmers’ agitation with the objective of causing huge loss of several hundred crores to the Indian economy and create law and order problems in India”. Their reportage “incited disaffection, especially towards the democratically elected Govt of India”.

Though the FIR has claims that NewsClick reports have disrupted essential services to Indians, UAPA defines such disruption "by using bombs, dynamite or firearms or other lethal weapons or poisonous gases or other chemicals or by any other substances".

Without details, the FIR also accuses Purkayastha, Singham and Prashad of “actively propagated false narratives to discredit the efforts of Indian government to contain Covid-19 pandemic”.

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