ED Probes Email Exchanges Between American Billionaire And CPI(M) Leader In NewsClick Money Laundering Case

The probe delves into alleged dubious funding from Singham to advance Chinese propaganda through NewsClick.

Enforcement Directorate (ED)

The Enforcement Directorate (ED) has intensified its money laundering investigation into news portal NewsClick, shedding light on a trove of email exchanges involving American billionaire Neville Roy Singham and senior CPI(M) leader Prakash Karat. The probe centers around allegations of questionable funding from Singham to promote Chinese propaganda through NewsClick.

Official sources reveal that the ED is delving into email correspondence between Singham and Karat, aiming to ascertain the nature and purpose of these communications. The agency is also investigating fund transfers amounting to approximately Rs 40 lakh from NewsClick to activist Teesta Setalvad's family and around Rs 72 lakh to journalist and author Paranjoy Guha Thakurta. Additionally, transfers to several NewsClick employees and independent media figures are under scrutiny, as reported by PTI.

One of the most striking findings is that NewsClick purportedly disbursed Rs 17.08 lakh as "salary" to Gautam Navlakha, an incarcerated activist, and Rs 97.32 lakh to Bappaditya Sinha, a NewsClick shareholder and member of the CPI(M)'s IT cell, over an undisclosed timeframe.

The focus of the ED's investigation lies in understanding the "end use" of these funds, aiming to unravel the intricate financial trail and potential implications for the media landscape.

The renewed spotlight on NewsClick stems from a recent report in The New York Times, which implicated the news outlet as part of a global network funded by Singham, known for his alleged close ties with the Chinese government's media machinery. This revelation sparked discussions in India's Parliament, with BJP MP Nishikant Dubey alleging that the funds injected into NewsClick were utilized to create an anti-India environment.

The ED's criminal investigation encompasses an alleged inflow of fraudulent foreign funds exceeding Rs 86 crore from Singham-linked entities into NewsClick's holding company, PPK Newsclick Studio Pvt. Ltd. A forthcoming charge sheet is anticipated as the agency finalizes its findings.

The initial ED raid on NewsClick's premises occurred in September 2021 in Saidulajab, New Delhi, on charges of money laundering. Subsequent legal proceedings and ongoing litigation between NewsClick and the ED are ongoing in the Delhi High Court.

Key figures have been questioned as part of the investigation, including NewsClick founder and editor-in-chief Prabir Purkayastha. Journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, who has been a consultant for NewsClick since May 2018, clarified his status within the organization, confirming he is neither an employee, shareholder, nor part of the editorial board.

While some details of the email exchanges have been revealed, Karat and Setalvad have not yet responded to inquiries. The CPI(M) issued a statement asserting that the party is facing a smear campaign, attributing it to its consistent opposition to the BJP's communal ideology.

The ED's relentless pursuit of evidence has led to the retrieval of emails, shedding light on discussions between Singham, NewsClick officials, and others regarding various news stories, including China-related topics. The agency is now working to piece together a comprehensive understanding of the alleged financial irregularities and their potential ramifications.

NewsClick, in response, dismissed the allegations against it, stating that they lack factual basis and are currently sub judice. The company emphasized its respect for the legal process and refrained from engaging in a "media trial." The Delhi High Court has granted interim protection from arrest to several officials associated with NewsClick.