The government reacted strongly on Saturday to an advertisement in U.S. newspaper Wall Street Journal by a U.S. group calling for sanctions against Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, Supreme court judges and Enforcement Directorate and other officials in the Devas-Antrix case, calling it an “attack on Indian sovereignty”.
The advertisement which appeared on October 13 in the newspaper appeared to have been timed with Ms. Sitharaman’s visit to Washington, in an attempt to draw attention to the case on behalf of Devas co-founder, U.S. citizen Ramachandra Vishwanathan. Mr. Vishwanathan who has, along with a Washington-based NGO “Frontiers of Freedom” appealed to the U.S. State Department to apply “Magnitsky Act” sanctions on the named eleven Indian government officials for what he called a faulty investigation, an “unfair” trial and government moves to declare him a criminal and attach his property which he said amounted to “depriving” him of his “liberty and security”. In Delhi, a senior government advisor called it a “shockingly vile” advertisement that had targeted India and its Government.
“This is not a campaign against [the] Modi Government alone. It's a campaign against [the] judiciary. It's a campaign against India’s sovereignty,” said Kanchan Gupta, Senior Adviser, Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, in a set of tweets where he also criticised the Wall Street Journal for allowing the “shameful weaponisation of American media by fraudsters”. Mr. Gupta said that the advertisement had been taken out on behalf of Mr. Vishwanathan who is a “declared fugitive economic offender” accused of corruption.
While the original case involved a dispute between Bangalore-based Devas Multimedia and Antrix Corp, the commercial arm of the Indian Space Research Organisation over a 2005 deal to operate satellites that was cancelled, the latest controversy pertains to actions by Devas co-founder Vishwanathan and the government’s counter-actions against Devas more recently. In August this year, the Delhi High Court set aside a $1.3 Billion (including interest) arbitration verdict in favour of Devas Multimedia that had been passed in 2015 by the International Chamber of Commerce. The government sought Mr. Vishwanathans arrest on charges of corruption, froze Devas accounts in Mauritius through the use of the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) and requested an Interpol red corner notice to have him extradited from the U.S.
However, also in August, Devas Multimedia s had seized $87,457.47 in cash from Antrix Corporation’s account in the U.S. and had seized a property in Paris after getting favourable orders in U.S., French and Canadian courts on the basis of the ICC award.
The advertisement, that was taken out by an American right-wing NGO founded by a Republican party Senator, accused Ms. Sitharaman, Judges V. Ramasubramanian and Hemant Gupta, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, ED Director Sanjay Kumar Mishra and Assistant Director R. Rajesh and other officials of misusing state powers to “settle scores with political and business rivals”. Calling the named officials “Modi’s Magnitsky 11”, Frontiers of Freedom President George Landrith, who is also a Republican party member, said
“The actions of [officials named and the Modi government] send a clear message to potential investors in India: India is a dangerous place to invest,” Mr. Landrith tweeted on Thursday.
The Global Magnitsky Act of 2016 authorizes the U.S. government to sanction foreign government officials worldwide that it determines are ‘human rights offenders’, freeze their assets, cancel visas and ban them from entering the U.S.
Speaking at a public event in Delhi as well as to television channels, Mr. Gupta called on the U.S. government to look into the advertisement. He also called into question the fact that the financial paper ran the advertisement questioning India’s investment climate even as the IMF chief Kristalina Georgieva, who met Ms. Sitharaman had referred to India as a “bright spot” on the global horizon.