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ED claims PFI funded anti-CAA stir in UP; organisation rubbishes allegations

All the agency could establish is that PFI deposited and withdrew money on days when protests turned violent and not whether the funds were used in the stirs

ED claims PFI funded anti-CAA stir in UP; organisation rubbishes allegations

New Delhi: The Enforcement Directorate on Monday tried to "directly link" Popular Front of India (PFI) to the anti-CAA protests in the state of Uttar Pradesh, where most of the violence was witnessed with over 20 reported of having died in less than two weeks. The financial probe agency has claimed that the PFI purportedly funded the protests between December 4 last year and January 6 but has only established a correlation between the protests and the money trail and has not been able to show whether PFI funds were actually used for the protests.

As the ED sent the investigation report into PFI bank accounts to the Ministry of Home Affairs with a note raising suspicion of PFI funding the protests, the agency also mentioned that PFI allegedly made large payments to senior advocates Indira Jaising, Kapil Sibal and Dushyant A Dave but curiously it does not mention the date of these payments. Both the PFI and Sibal issued statements on Monday evening that said the payments to Sibal were made for legal services he had provided in the Hadiya case in 2017-18 in exchange for appropriate invoices raised by the lawyer.

The ED's allegations are based on a scrutiny of 73 bank accounts allegedly linked to PFI and related entities. The agency claimed that Rs 120.5 crore was deposited in these bank accounts through cash deposits, RTGS/NEFT, and IMPS transactions, which were allegedly withdrawn on the same day or within two-three days of the deposits. The majority of the deposits were allegedly made in branches in Bharaich, Bijnor, Hapur, Shamli and Dasna among some other districts in Western UP.

The agency further claimed that Rs 1.04 crore was deposited into 15 PFI-related bank accounts between December 4 and January 6 which correlate to the days when the protests had turned violent. In fact, the ED's own graphical representation shows only the correlation and even reveals that such deposits were made even on days when the protests had not turned violent, according to the agency. Interestingly, the ED documents released on Monday were neither dated nor signed.

The same correlation was made by the financial probe agency by compiling data of withdrawals from these 15 bank accounts, where it claimed that Rs 1.34 crore was withdrawn through multiple small transactions on days when the protests had peaked but this data also shows that similar amounts were also withdrawn on days when such protests did not reach such levels, leaving the question as to whether PFI money was used to fund the protests or not unanswered.

In addition, the ED has claimed that the deposits were deliberately kept under Rs 50,000 at a time to avoid detection of depositor's identity and that the withdrawals were made in amounts ranging from Rs 2,000 to Rs 5,000 so that no red flags are raised. Moreover, the agency went on to claim that PFI's Kerala unit had sent around Rs 1.65 crore to its Kashmir branch but the PFI statement on the matter clarifies that they have no branch anywhere in Jammu and Kashmir.

As far as the links to Sibal and Jaising are concerned, Sibal issued a statement where he accounted for the Rs 77 lakh payment as alleged by ED but clarified that these were payments for legal services he provided in the Hadiya case in 2017-18. Further, Jaising issued a statement denying having received any payments from PFI or any of its members or any person in relation to organising the anti-CAA protests anywhere. She also said that she would take legal action against any person or entity with a motive "to scandalize my reputation".

The ED had initiated a case against PFI under provisions of the PMLA after taking cognizance of a chargesheet filed by the NIA against the group. The group found itself in the middle of controversy recently after the UP Government had recommended the Home Ministry to ban the organisation last year.

The agency also added that PFI had allegedly received around Rs 20 lakh from an LLC in Dubai called PMA International, which is being probed and also claimed that the organisation is "actively supported" by Thanal Foundation, a religious charitable trust purportedly run by a PFI leader. Despite having only revealed a correlation, the ED has left the probe open to look into other aspects of the case.

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