‘Preposterous’: Journalist Rana Ayyub refutes reports that she misused Covid-19 relief funds
The Enforcement Directorate has attached over Rs 1.77-crore worth of bank deposits in connection with a money laundering case, media reports claimed.
Journalist Rana Ayyub in a statement on Friday refuted allegations that she had diverted for personal use funds she had raised to help people affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“It is abundantly clear that no part of the relief campaign fund remains unaccounted for, and there is absolutely no scope for any remote allegation of misuse of the funds for personal expenses,” said the statement issued by Ayyub, the author of The Gujarat Files, which investigated the religious riots in the state in 2002 when Narendra Modi was chief minister.
Her statement comes in response to media reports on Friday that the Enforcement Directorate had attached over Rs 1.77-crore worth of her bank deposits in connection with a money-laundering investigation. The reports, attributed to “agency sources”, claimed that this move was related to “alleged irregularities in charitable funds raised from public donors”.
The Enforcement Directorate “had issued a provisional order under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) to attach a Rs 50-lakh worth fixed deposit and the rest amount kept as bank deposits and held in two accounts of a private bank in Navi Mumbai”, Mint reported.
Ayyub said that she had not received any communication from the authorities about her deposits being attached.
The agency’s case is based on a first information report filed by the Uttar Pradesh Police in September 2021, The Indian Express reported.
In September, a Hindutva group named Hindu IT Cell had filed a complaint against Ayyub alleging that she had illegally collected money through the online fundraising platform Ketto “in the name of charity”. The complaint also alleged that the journalist had received foreign funds without government approval.
Ayyub raised Rs 2,69,44,680 on Ketto, agency officials told Mint. “These funds were withdrawn in the bank accounts of her sister and father,” the agency alleged. This money was later transferred to Ayyub’s own account.
The Enforcement Directorate has said that Ayyub had created a fixed deposit of Rs 50 lakh from the funds she had raised but did not use this for relief work, Mint reported.
On Friday, Ayyub described the allegations as “preposterous, wholly mala fide and belied by record”. They were based on “an intentional misreading of her bank statements”, she said.
Ayyub said that as the pandemic erupted, she had organised three campaigns on Ketto starting from April 2020 to provide respite to the “most vulnerable and affected people with food grains, ration, and medical assistance”.
She said that in order to start the fundraising campaign, Ketto asked her to furnish details of two bank accounts to which the donations would be transferred. “I then explored whether it was possible for Ketto to directly transfer the funds to the grain vendors who were going to provide the supplies for the relief work,” her statement said. “However, as the vendors were all required to submit various documents to Ketto, the process could not take off.”
She said her personal bank account could not be used at that time as Ketto required a physical copy of her PAN card to be furnished immediately. However, that document was unavailable at the time.
“In these circumstances, as I thought that aid to Covid 19 ravaged families should not be delayed, I gave Ketto the details and documents relating to my father and sister’s bank accounts,” her statement said.
She added that she had received no foreign contributions, as alleged in the first information report, defined under the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act.
From the total amount, she donated Rs 90 lakh to the non-profit organisation Save The Children Foundation. The amount was supposed to be directed towards the paediatric department of Delhi’s Tilak Hospital. However, the foundation returned the donation without an explanation, the journalist said. She then donated Rs 74.50 lakh to the CM CARES Fund of Maharashtra and to PM CARES Fund.
The journalist added that the unutilised part of the fund, which comprised the fixed deposit of Rs 50 lakh, could not be used for relief campaigns as it had been provisionally attached by the Income Tax Department between August 7 and February 7.
She said that the Income Tax department in August 2021 decided to treat the donations as her income. “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,” the statement said.
She added: “All personal expenses borne by me are out of my personal income and savings. I have demonstrably shown, before the Income Tax Department, as also before two zonal offices of the ED, that no part of the relief campaign money has been used for any other purpose.”
Threats to Ayyub
In January, Ayyub came under intense attack online after she criticised a Saudi airstrike on Yemen. The journalist said that most of the nearly 26,000 tweets directed at her at the time were abusive and many contained rape and death threats. The tweets came mainly from Hindutva supporters and Saudi nationalists, she said.
On February 1, the first information report was registered by the Mumbai police after Ayyub had complained of having received threats.
Four Twitter and two Instagram users were booked under sections of the Indian Penal Code pertaining to sexual harassment, death threats, defamation and outraging the modesty of women.
On Thursday, the police arrested one person in the case.