Amnesty India chief Aakar Patel stopped from flying abroad, moves court

New Delhi: Amnesty International India chief Aakar Patel was on Wednesday stopped from flying abroad by authorities at the Bengaluru international airport in the wake of a CBI look out circular (LOC) issued on December 31 last year in an FCRA case, after which he moved a special court in Delhi challenging it.

The court has sought a response from the CBI by Thursday when it will again hear the plea by Patel who claimed the LOC was issued without following due process of law and that a Gujarat court had permitted him to travel to the US.

According to agency sources, the LOC was issued on the basis of a charge sheet 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.

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Earlier in the day, Patel said that when he went to the Kempegowda International Airport, Bengaluru on Wednesday morning to catch a flight to Boston, Immigration officials stopped him citing a lookout circular by the CBI.

He claimed that he was not aware why the circular had been issued against him and said that he wanted to fly to the US to deliver lectures in three universities.

CBI sources said the look out circular was issued against him on the basis of its charge sheet with a request to port authorities to “prevent him from leaving the country”.

The charge sheet was filed by the agency in the special CBI court at Rouse Avenue 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, they said.

“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,” Patel told PTI.

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 Amnesty International India chief said.

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.

“Last time they (CBI) called me was 14 months ago and I went there,” Patel added.

Patel approached a special court on Wednesday after which Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Pawan Kumar issued notice to the probe agency and sought its reply by Thursday.

Let reply be called from the IO (investigating officer) with the directions that he shall remain present in the court on April 7, the court said.

It noted that the charge sheet was already filed and that too without the arrest of the accused.

Patel has sought the court’s permission to visit the USA to take up his foreign assignment and lecture series organised by various universities till May 30.

The application alleged that the investigating authorities have acted in the most illegal, arbitrary and nefarious manner in putting fetters on the fundamental rights of the applicant and have not even bothered to inform him well in advance .

Patel is also being prosecuted in a court in Surat, Gujarat, in a private complaint lodged by BJP leader Purneshbhai Ishwarbhai Modi.

The application claimed that Patel was allowed by the Surat court to travel abroad and accordingly the passport of the petitioner was released for a period of March 1 to May 30.

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 aforesaid 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, the officials said.

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”.

“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”.

While forwarding the complaint, the home ministry had directed the CBI to rope in Income Tax and Enforcement Directorate in case violations of relevant acts were found during the investigation.

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