The Central Bureau of Investigation has received sanction from the government to prosecute former Amnesty International India chair Aakar Patel for alleged violations of the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act, the counsel for the agency told a Delhi court on Tuesday, Bar and Bench reported.

The Act regulates foreign donations to non-governmental organisations. Patel has been accused of violating terms of the law by allegedly allowing Rs 36 crore to be remitted to Amnesty India without government approval. The organisation has denied any wrongdoing.

At Tuesday’s hearing, Special CBI Judge Santosh Snehi Mann said his earlier order barring Patel from travelling out of the country will continue. Last week, Mann had stayed a magistrate order asking the central agency to retract a look-out notice issued against Patel.

Advocate Nikhil Goel, representing the Central Bureau of Investigation, told the court that the trial against Amnesty International India and Patel can start now with the Centre’s go-ahead, ANI reported. “The trial could not start because no sanction was given by the government,” he added.

Under Foreign Contribution Regulation Act, the international human rights organisation cannot be prosecuted without sanction from the Ministry of Home Affairs.

On Tuesday, the judge reserved his orders on the Central Bureau of Investigation’s plea seeking revision of the magistrate order.

Goel told the court that Patel was giving interviews saying the central government has personal vendetta against him. “Usually accused comes and says it is a media trial, but here the situation is reverse,” he added. “Because he is a media man.”

Advocate Tanveer Ahmed Mir, appearing for Patel, said his client’s fundamental rights to travel outside the country are being “steamrolled”.

“I was not a flight risk for 26 months during the investigation, but I suddenly became a flight risk now,” Mir submitted.

Goel in response claimed that Patel is well connected with people outside India and therefore he cannot be allowed to travel.

The judge said he is convinced with the submissions made by Goel, according to Live Law. “The operation of impugned order is stayed till final decision of revision petition,” he added.

Last week, the special CBI court judge had asked Patel to not leave the country without its permission. He also stayed Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Pawan Kumar’s order asking the Central Bureau of Investigation director to issue a written apology to Patel acknowledging the lapse on part of his subordinate for stopping from travelling to the United States on April 6.

This happened even though he got his passport back through a court order specifically for the trip to the US between March 1 and May 30. Patel’s passport was impounded after a Bharatiya Janata Party MLA in Surat had filed a case against him.

After Patel moved the magistrate court, Kumar asked the Central Bureau of Investigation to withdraw the look-out notice.

However, Patel was again stopped from travelling abroad on April 7 as the Central Bureau of Investigation had not withdrawn the look-out circular. A day later, he filed a separate plea in a Delhi court, seeking action against CBI’s investigation officer for not complying with the Thursday order.

But, the investigating agency was granted interim relief after it moved a revision petition against the order on Friday.

Case against Amnesty

The Central Bureau of Investigation has said that the Amnesty International India Foundation Trust was given permission during 2011-’12 for receiving foreign contributions from the Amnesty International-United Kingdom. However, the permission was cancelled following adverse inputs from the security agencies.

The agency alleged that the Indians for Amnesty International Trust and the Amnesty International India Private Limited were then formed in 2012-’13 and 2013-’14 to “escape the FCRA [Foreign Contribution Regulation Act] route”.

In September 2020, the human rights organisation said it was forced to shut its operations as the Indian government had frozen its bank accounts. The group had said its “lawful fundraising model” was being portrayed as money laundering because Amnesty India had challenged the “government’s grave inactions and excesses”.

The Centre had described the allegations unfortunate, exaggerated and “far from the truth”. Amnesty’s “glossy statements” about humanitarian work and speaking truth to power were nothing but a “ploy to divert attention” from their activities, which were in “clear contravention” of Indian laws, the government had said.