The CBI is carrying out searches at Lawyers Collective, and the residence of noted lawyers Indira Jaising and Anand Grover, sources said. The CBI had earlier filed a case of FCRA violation against Anand Grover and Lawyers Collective on a complaint given by MHA. The searches are believed to be taking place at the Delhi and Mumbai offices of the NGO, they said.
In June, CBI had booked noted lawyer Anand Grover and his Mumbai-based voluntary organisation, Lawyers Collective, for alleged violation of rules in receiving foreign aid. The agency filed an FIR on the basis of a complaint from the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), which alleged several discrepancies in the utilisation of foreign aid received by the NGO.
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) booked Grover, the president of Lawyers Collective, and unidentified office-bearers of the organisation, besides unidentified officials. The allegation was strongly disputed by Lawyers Collective in a statement issued last month. Although the CBI did not name Grover's wife and former additional solicitor general (ASG) 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 ministry alleged that Jaising, as the ASG from 2009 to 2014, had received remunerations worth Rs 96.60 lakh from the foreign contributions received by Lawyers Collective. It also stated that her foreign travels as ASG were funded by Lawyers Collective, using such contributions, without prior approval of the ministry.
The ministry had said the ASG 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. It alleged that Jaising violated the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) 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".
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, 2010.
READ | Urban Naxals Case: 'Wrong To Attack The Institution When Verdict Doesn’t Come In Your Favour': Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis on Indira Jaising's Open Attack On CJI Post Supreme Court's Refusal to Interfere With The Arrest Of The 5 Accused
Based on available information and scrutiny of records of the NGO available with the MHA, prima facie violations of various provisions of the FCRA, 2010 were noticed, the ministry said. It added that on-site inspection of books of accounts and records of the NGO was conducted from 19th to 23rd January, 2016. The ministry 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 show-cause notice issued.
Recently, a PIL was filed by Lawyers Voice, a voluntary organisation 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 MHA, 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 issued a press statement, disputing "any allegation of misutilisation of any funds".
The MHA 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 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 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," it 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 Act. Section 3 of the FCRA prohibits acceptance of foreign contributions by any poll candidate, member of a legislature or a political party so that parliamentary institutions and political associations are not influenced in any manner, the ministry has said.
It has 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 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, while an amount of Rs 12.5 crore was received by the NGO for HIV-AIDS awareness programmes, which were not the purposes listed as its objective, the ministry has alleged.
(With PTI inputs)