ED starts PMLA probe against Lawyers Collective, Anand Grover
New Delhi: After the CBI booked Mumbai-based NGO, Lawyers Collective (LC) and its founding President, noted lawyer Anand Grover for alleged violations of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, and after the central probe agency raided the premises of former Additional Solicitor-General Indira Jaising in connection with the case, the ED has now initiated a separate money-laundering case against the NGO and Grover, on the basis of the CBI's case.
A senior official in the know said that the ED has registered an Enforcement Case Information Report (ECIR) - the agency's equivalent of an FIR - to probe possible instances of money-laundering by LC and its office-bearers after taking cognisance of the FIR filed by the Central Bureau of Investigation earlier this year.
However, when the CBI had filed the FIR, LC had maintained that their organisation was being targetted for the kinds of cases its office bearers choose to fight in court. A statement from the NGO read, "It (the FIR) has been filed to target the organisation and its office bearers to silence them for cases and issues they have taken up in the past and continue to take up since 2016."
LC and its office bearers have represented activists in the Bhima Koregaon case and a former employee of the Supreme Court who had levelled sexual harassment allegations against the CJI. They have also taken up the Sohrabuddin case, where Home Minister Amit Shah was earlier an accused an later cleared of charges.
Interestingly, office bearers of LC have also represented in the Supreme Court, former Kolkata Police Commissioner Rajeev Kumar, who is currently being hunted by the CBI in connection with the Saradha chit fund case, even as he has filed an application for anticipatory bail in the Alipore Sessions court and the agency has been denied a non-bailable warrant.
The CBI had registered the case against LC and Anand Grover based on a complaint from the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), which had forwarded a report of an investigation into alleged FCRA violations by the NGO, including using foreign donations to fund advocacy with Members of Parliament and organise dharnas. The MHA complaint also alleges that LC had paid Rs 96.6 lakh to Indira Jaising, during her time as ASG, from funds received as foreign contributions.
The MHA had in its letter to the CBI, said that the agency may if need be forward the case to the appropriate agencies to investigate other possible offenses in relation the case under statutes like the Prevention of Money Laundering Act or the Income Tax Act.
But according to the NGO, Jaising was being paid remuneration before, during, and after her tenure as ASG, with all the requisite permission from the Law Ministry and the Law Minister at the time.
After the Home Ministry's investigation into Lawyers Collective, the government had cancelled LC's registration to receive foreign funding in 2016, which was immediately challenged by the NGO in the Bombay High Court, where the matter is still pending.
When the CBI had swooped down on Jaising's Delhi home in coordinated raids with respect to the case a few months ago, the senior advocate had told reporters outside her residence, "I and Mr Grover are being targetted because of the human rights work that we have been doing."
After the CBI raids, the NGO had released a statement raising questions on the intentions of the CBI, as it had issued a statement on the search operation even before they were concluded.
More than 50 opposition leaders in the RS had also signed a letter condemning the CBI action against Jaising, Grover and LC., with signatories like Kapil Sibal (INC), D Raja (CPI), P Chidambaram (INC), Sanjay Singh (AAP), and Jaya Bachchan (SP).