Alt News denies FCRA violations

Razorpay blocks donations to Alt News for a day after FCRA charges 

Updated - July 05, 2022 04:07 pm IST

Published - July 04, 2022 10:46 pm IST - New Delhi

After the Delhi Police on Saturday told a Delhi court that they were investigating alleged violations of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) by Alt News in their probe against co-founder Mohammed Zubair, Razorpay, the payments gateway, deactivated the fact-checking website’s account on its platform for a day “as a safety precaution, while the investigation was ongoing”.  Alt News has denied any violations of the FCRA.

A spokesperson for the payments gateway said the account had been reactivated on Monday evening “following clarity on the issue from the authorities”. The spokesperson added, “We have extended our full cooperation to all stakeholders in the investigation and will continue to do so, as needed. Razorpay is a trusted company and we will always ensure transactions on the platform are safe and compliant with all laws and regulations.”

This came shortly after Alt News issued a statement, declaring its account had been disabled and that it was looking for other payment gateways to receive donations. 

Hours after the July 2 hearing, where the Delhi Police first alleged violations of the FCRA, sources said Alt News received an email from Razorpay, informing that its account was being “temporarily suspended”. In court, the police had submitted they were now also probing charges under Section 35 of the FCRA in the case against Mr. Zubair, which was initially registered under Sections 153A and 295 of the IPC. 

‘Foreign source’

The police said on Saturday “CDR analysis” and transaction records from Razorpay showed funds worth ₹2.31 lakh were sent to Alt News/ Pravda Media Foundation, in which either the mobile phone used was from outside India or the IP address was of foreign countries like Pakistan, UAE, Singapore, Syria, Bangkok, New York and “several Gulf countries”.  

Citing this, senior public prosecutor Atul Srivastava on Saturday told a Patiala House court, on behalf of the Delhi Police, that they need to probe these funds from “foreign sources” and hence were adding Section 35 of the FCRA.  

FCRA defines “foreign source” as a government of a foreign country or territory; an international agency other than the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, United Nations or any such agency notified by the Union government; foreign companies or corporations, which are either wholly or partly incorporated outside of India; trade union of a foreign country or territory; foreign trust or foundation; a society or other associations registered outside of India; or a citizen of a foreign country.

International mobile numbers, IP addresses and CDR details identify the location and identity of the user and not any other information about them or the transaction, unless specifically sought from the authorities concerned.

After saying they were adding FCRA Sections, Mr. Srivastava had on Saturday said they were in the process of securing bank details and information on the users involved in making these transactions from foreign countries.

On the Alt News donation webpage, the company declares in bold: “We do not accept foreign remittance as we are not registered under the FCRA Act.” 

Once a user clicks on the “donate now” button on the page, they are redirected to the Razorpay page, which does not allow one to proceed with a payment, unless they enter information of a valid PAN (Permanent Account Number), email, address, phone number, Indian citizenship status, and whether they wish to seek tax exemption for the donation.

On Monday morning, Alt News issued a statement denying any violations of the FCRA. “These allegations are categorically false. Our payment platform through which we receive donations does not allow receipt of funds from foreign sources and we have received donations from Indian bank accounts only… All of this is an attempt to shut down the very critical work that we do, and we will fight this attempt to shut us down and come out on top,” Alt News said. 

It added, “The allegation that individuals associated with the organisation have received funds in their personal accounts is also false since the individuals associated with the organisations only get monthly remuneration.” 

In court, advocate Vrinda Grover had argued that the police must explain how they were “merging Pravda Media Foundation (Alt News’ parent company) with Mr. Zubair”, asking, “Have they issued notice to Alt News of Pravda for these allegations?” 

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