CBI Books Anand Grover, His NGO Lawyers Collective Over Foreign Funding Issues
Lawyers Collective in the CBI FIR has been accused of violating foreign funding rules under the FCRA. (Source: Freepik)

CBI Books Anand Grover, His NGO Lawyers Collective Over Foreign Funding Issues

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The Central Bureau of Investigation has filed a first investigation report against noted lawyer Anand Grover and his Mumbai-based non-governmental organisation Lawyers Collective for alleged violation of foreign funding rules, officials said on Tuesday. Office bearers of the NGO and unidentified officials were also named in the FIR.

CBI filed the FIR on the basis of a complaint from the Home Ministry, which has alleged several discrepancies in utilisation of foreign funding received by Lawyers Collective.

Although the investigation agency has not named Grover's wife and former additional solicitor general Indira Jaising as an accused in the FIR, the complaint filed by the ministry, which is now part of the FIR, mentions allegations against her.

The home ministry has alleged that Jaising, as the additional solicitor general from 2009 to 2014, had received remunerations worth Rs 96.60 lakh from the foreign contributions received by Lawyers Collective. It also claimed that her foreign travels as the additional solicitor general of India were funded by Lawyers Collective, using such contributions, without prior approval of the ministry.

The additional solicitor general is paid by the government from the Consolidated Fund of India and carries out very sensitive and high-level work, including, inter-alia, giving advice to the government in legal matters, appearing in the Supreme Court and high courts on its behalf and representing it in any reference made by the president to the apex court.

Jaising violated the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act by "not seeking clearances from the government for receiving foreign contributions in the form of remuneration from the organisation and accepting foreign hospitality while visiting a foreign country,” the ministry said.

According to the ministry's complaint, Lawyers Collective had allegedly received foreign aid worth over Rs 32.39 crore between 2006-07 and 2014-15, wherein irregularities were committed that amounted to violation of the FCRA.

Based on available information and scrutiny of records of the NGO available with the home ministry, prima facie violations of various FCRA provisions were noticed, the ministry said. It added that on-site inspection of books of accounts and records of the NGO was conducted from Jan. 19-23, 2016.

The ministry has claimed that comments were sought from the NGO on the basis of the violations reported during the inspection, but the response was not found to be satisfactory, following which its FCRA registration was suspended and a showcause notice issued.

Recently, a public interest litigation was filed by Lawyers Voice, a voluntary body of advocates, in the Supreme Court, alleging that the funds collected by Lawyers Collective were misutilised for "activities against the nation".

A bench comprising Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Deepak Gupta had issued notice to Jaising, Grover and the home ministry, asking them to file their responses on the allegations, including that the money received by Lawyers Collective was used to "influence political activities".

Jaising, Grover and Lawyers Collective had then issued a press statement, disputing "any allegation of misutilisation of any funds".

The home ministry has alleged that the funds received through foreign contributions were spent on media advocacy with 67 MPs in March and April, 2010 and with 99 MPs in August, 2010 for the drafting of the HIV/AIDS Bill by Lawyers Collective.

It has also claimed that the NGO had organised a free trade agreement rally.

It held "paid dharnas" on the HIV/AIDS Bill outside the law ministry, which amounted to violation of the FCRA, the home ministry has alleged.

"As per the FC (foreign contribution) return filed, there was no mention of the fact that FC was used for advocacy, including advocacy with MPs or media, to draft a legislation or to organise rallies and dharnas. Hence, by spending on these activities, the association has violated Section 8 of FCRA, 2010," the home ministry has alleged.

The ministry has claimed that the utilisation of foreign funds for advocacy, indulging in lobbying with MPs and thereby, influencing the political process and parliamentary institutions is in clear violation of the "letter and spirit" of the FCRA.

Section 3 of the FCRA prohibits acceptance of foreign contributions by any election candidate, member of a legislature or a political party so that parliamentary bodies and political associations are not influenced in any manner, the home ministry has said.

It has also raised question marks on the travelling expenses incurred by Grover as the UN Special Rapporteur for Health, alleging that he used such contributions for personal benefits and spent those outside India in violation of the law.

The funds received from a donor were allegedly used by Grover for defending the Novartis case, the ministry has said.

It has also alleged misuse of foreign funds in his air travels.

Foreign contributions worth Rs 2.94 crore were received by Lawyers Collective for women empowerment, and Rs 12.5 crore for HIV-AIDS awareness programmes, but those were not the purposes listed as its objective, the home ministry has alleged.

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