Delhi Police’s probe into NewsClick began before NYT report: Case timeline
Even though the raids on NewsClick and its journalists came two months after a New York Times investigation on the portal, the Delhi Police’s probe began much earlier in August 2020 when its Economic Offences Wing registered a case against the website
The Delhi Police on Tuesday arrested Prabir Purkayastha and Amit Chakravarty, the founder and the human resources department head, respectively, of online portal NewsClick following raids across five cities over allegations of irregularities in the website’s cashbooks and foreign funding. The raids and the arrests sparked a controversy with several media bodies and political parties condemning the act, calling it a blow on media freedom.
Here’s a look at the timeline of the events:
The raids and the arrests
On Tuesday, at least 400 police officials raided around 30 locations across Delhi, Noida, Gurugram, Mumbai and Ghaziabad around 6am, questioning 46 people, including journalists, freelancers, writers and satirists—including Abhisar Sharma, Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, Bhasha Singh, Sohail Hashmi, Aditi Nigam, Urmilesh, Subodh Verma, D Raghunandan, Githa Hariharan among others-- for eight hours.
Police said they seized digital devices like mobile phones, laptops and hard disks along with documents from the “suspects”.
The journalists alleged that they were questioned whether they wrote articles on Covid 19, Delhi riots and the farmers’ protest. They were also asked about their travel history and bank balance while being asked to show their passbooks.
The New York Times investigation
The raids and the arrests came two months after a New York Times investigation claimed that the portal was receiving money from Shanghai-based American businessman Neville Roy Singham for pushing Chinese propaganda. The report, published in August this year, also said that the website had posted a video titled “China’s history continues to inspire the working classes”.
The 2020 EOW case
The Delhi Police’s investigation into the portal began much earlier in August 2020 when its Economic Offences Wing (EOW) registered a case under sections 406 (punishment for criminal breach of trust), 420 (cheating and dishonestly inducing delivery of property), and 120B (punishment of criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). The case pertained to the foreign direct investment received by PPK NewsClick Studio Private Limited, which owns the digital portal, from Worldwide Media Holdings LLC, US, during 2018-19 and alleged that the company violated Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) norms.
The 2021 ED Probe
In February 2021, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) came in the picture and started a probe based on the case registered by the Delhi Police EOW. A case was registered by ED on charges of money laundering in the matter as well.
NewsClick founder Purkayartha approached the Delhi high court for protection against any action.
In June, 2021, the Delhi high court directed the ED to not take any coercive action against NewsClick and Purkayastha until July 5 in the money laundering case. The protection was later extended till September 2 after multiple hearings.
In July the same year, ED said that they have found that Singham was the source of funding of ₹38 crores to PPK Studio Pvt Ltd between 2018 and 2021. They also claimed that the money received also went to activist Gautam Navlakha, an accused in the Elgar Parishad Case. ED also questioned him in jail regarding his association with the NewsClick founder.
The issue raised in Parliament
Following the New York Times report, Union minister Smriti Irani launched an attack in Parliament against the Congress over the alleged Chinese funding to NewsClick. Irani alleged that Singham wrote to the journalists in India on how news against India should be circulated. “The views of the tri-continental publication’s researchers, who write against the interests of the farmers, were given a platform by the Congress party on their official pages,” she said.
The latest case
On August 17, the Delhi Police Special Cell registered a case under section 153A (promoting enmity) and 120B (criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code and sections 16, 17, 18, and 22C of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) which pertains to terrorist acts and raising funds for terrorist acts.
The registration of this FIR came to light only on Tuesday when raids were conducted at houses of journalists who started posting about it on X (formerly known as Twitter).
An investigator said that during the investigation, many irregularities were found in the cashbook of NewsClick. “Within months of incorporation, NewsClick received crores of funds for ‘services’ exported, out of which a payment of ₹1.55 crore was made to an electrician. Also, Puryakastha and Gautam Navlakha, an accused in Bhima-Koregaon case have incorporated a company together with an American defence supplier company too. We have found some e-mails exchanged between Puryakastha and Neville Roy Singham, which were aimed to tarnish India’s image at the international level,” the officer said.
Families of those who were raided said that pointed questions were asked.
A relative of one of them said that officials came in the morning around 6am and asked a list of questions they had come prepared with. “They asked pointed questions on whether Nigam and her daughter who have both worked with NewsClick written articles on three incidents - communal riots that broke out in northeast Delhi in February 2020, Covid 19 pandemic, and farmers’ protest,” said a relative of Aditi Nigam.
She further added that officials also asked them about their travel history and bank balance. They were asked to show their passbooks as well. They took some documents including reporting notes”.
Another consultant with the portal was asked to open links of her stories which were then noted down by officials.
A relative of another staff said that when his family asked the officials where he was being taken, the officials denied to sharing any information.