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Journalist Rana Ayyub Terms as ‘Baseless’ ED Charge of Misappropriating COVID-19 Donations

'I am confident that the allegations levelled against me will not withstand any fair and honest scrutiny,' she wrote.

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New Delhi: Journalist Rana Ayyub has released a statement rejecting the Enforcement Directorate’s allegation that she misused donor funds raised as COVID-19 relief.

The ED on February 10 was reported to have attached over Rs 1.77 crores of bank deposits to Ayyub in connection with a money laundering probe it has initiated against her, connected to alleged irregularities in charitable funds raised from public donors.

The federal investigation agency issued a provisional order under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) to attach a Rs 50 lakh of fixed deposit and the rest, kept as bank deposits in two accounts of a private bank in Navi Mumbai, it was reported.

In a statement she shared on social media platforms on Friday, February 11, Ayyub said that she has “demonstrably shown” to the ED and Income-Tax department authorities that “no part of the relief campaign money has been used for any other purpose” or towards her personal expenses.

‘Two accounts’

“Funds totalling Rs 2,69,44,680 were raised on Ketto by Rana Ayyub. These funds were withdrawn in the bank accounts of her sister and father,” the ED had claimed, according to news agency PTI.

Ayyub highlighted that to start the fundraiser, the online platform Ketto.org asked her for details of two bank accounts where donations could be transferred.

Ayyub writes that after exploring options, she gave details and documents of her father’s and sister’s bank accounts to Ketto. “My personal bank account could not be used at that time as Ketto required the physical copy of my PAN card to be furnished immediately, which at that time was unavailable,” she says.

Also read: UN Experts Call on Indian Authorities to Provide Protection to Rana Ayyub

‘FCRA’

The money-laundering case against Ayyub was filed by the ED after taking cognisance of a September, 2021, FIR of the Ghaziabad police in Uttar Pradesh. Police lodged the case based on a complaint from Vikas Sankrityayan, the founder of an NGO called “Hindu IT Cell” and a resident of Indirapuram in Ghaziabad.

Ayyub, in her statement, said that she found a copy of the FIR on social media. In it, she says, an allegation is levelled that she has violated Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act regulations. Ayyub notes that she had instructed Ketto that any money received in foreign currency was to be returned to the donor. Relief work was only carried out with domestic contributions, she says.

“…[M]y bank statements…demonstrate that I received no foreign donations, and in any event, all foreign donations received by Ketto were returned to the donors by Ketto,” she notes in the statements.

This allegation in the Ghaziabad FIR, was the basis of FEMA proceedings against her by the Mumbai Zonal Office of the ED,  “which has since not been pursued after I answered all queries and submitted all documents,” she adds.

Ayyub highlights that she “received no foreign contribution as defined under the FCRA, and any income received from foreign sources is on account of [her] professional fee which is permissible under the FCRA law.”

“It is pertinent that no foreign donations were received by me or the 2 designated bank accounts, as all the donations were received first in Ketto’s bank account, who would send the amount for the relief campaign to the designated accounts in Indian currency,” she says earlier in the same statement.

Donations

The total amount raised by Ayyub in three public Ketto campaigns was Rs 2,69,44,679. Relief work undertaken by her was to the “tune of Rs 40 lakhs” she notes.

Ayyub writes in her statement that she reached an agreement with Save The Children Foundation to donate towards the paediatrics department of Tilak Hospital in New Delhi.

She issued a cheque of Rs 90 lakhs for this on August 20, 2021.

“However, on 08 September, 2021, I was informed by Save The Children Foundation that the South Delhi Municipal Corporation had refused to accept my donation and the cheque was returned to me,” she writes.

After the South Delhi Municipal Corporation’s refusal, Ayyub notes, “in order to ensure that the donated amounts were not left unutilised, but were rather used to provide treatment and relief to the affected families in need,” she donated Rs 74.50 lakhs to the CM CARES Fund of Maharashtra and to the PM CARES Fund.

Ayyub’s statement offers a final breakdown:

“Thus, out of the total of INR. 2.69 Crores (about 26.9 million) received, a total of 1 Crore, 14 lakhs and 50 thousand rupees [40 lakhs + 74.50 lakhs] was utilized for relief work as explained above. Another 1 Crore 5 lakhs rupees (10.05 million) was levied and collected as tax by the Income Tax Department. This accounts for 2 Crore 19 lakhs and 50 thousand rupees (20.19 million) out of the total funds raised,” she writes.

The remaining amount, which comes to a little less than Rs 50 lakhs is in the form of a fixed deposit. This fixed deposit was eventually frozen, and then unfrozen, as described below.

Income tax

Ayyub says in her statement that from June 2021 onwards, she received several notices from the Income Tax Department.

“I responded to all queries with detailed answers supported by documents, bills, invoices and bank records. I also made a formal request to the CBDT not to tax the donations received for relief work as I was not a beneficiary of those amounts, so that the entire donated amount can be utilised for relief work,” she writes.

The Income Tax department, by an order dated August 7, 2021, decided to treat the donations as her “income,” she says in the statement.

They provisionally attached Ayyub’s father’s bank account, her bank account and the “fixed deposit which was created towards setting up of a field hospital for Covid patients” mentioned in the above subhead. Authorities eventually unfroze her and her father’s accounts on September 6.

The fixed deposit remained frozen until this week, she states, and notes that she paid income tax on the donation too.

“I was also asked to pay income tax on the donation amount, which I have paid to the tune of INR. 1.05 Crores (about 10.05 million rupees) as directed by the Income Tax authorities. It was also informally communicated to me that if I give up my right to appeal against the order to levy tax on the donations, then the IT authorities would also de-freeze the Fixed Deposit. I have filed an appeal against the imposition of the tax on money that ought to have been used for relief work and was not my income. My appeal against the imposition of tax before the Income Tax Appellate Authority is pending. On 07.02.2022, I have received a communication from the IT authorities in Mumbai, that my Fixed Deposit has been released from attachment, stating that I am “allowed to operate the same”,” she noted.

Finally, Ayyub notes that reports in the media indicate that journalists are in possession of the Provisional Attachment Order dated February 4, 2022, which he does not have. She has called the reported allegations “baseless, mala fide and fanciful”.

“The smear campaign against me will not deter me from my professional commitment to continue to do my work as a journalist, and especially to raise critical issues and ask inconvenient questions, as is my duty as a journalist in a constitutional democracy. I am confident that the allegations levelled against me will not withstand any fair and honest scrutiny,” she writes.