There’s yet another “gate” in the works, it seems.Prannoy Roy founded NDTV – a listed entity – has been accused of laundering the money to the tune of Rs. 5,000 crores. I have some details from Manushi (HT @puchoo for highlighting the link) where an article by Madhu Kishwar brings some of the details to light.

Ram Jethmalani, a lawyer-turned-politician, has supposedly written a long letter to Chidambaram, accusing him and NDTV of a lot of things, including :

  • He says NDTV has a London subsidiary through which money was “laundered”, which he says was Chidambaram’s (India’s finance minister’s) money
  • A tax officer, SK Shrivastava, investigated NDTV and has, according to Jethmalani, been accused falsely of sexual harrassment, suspended and declared mentally insane (which was later withdrawn).
  • Two woman assessing officers (Shumana Sen and Ashima Neb) were involved as well, says Jethmalani.

Further, S. Gurumurthy, who’s a CA and has done many detailed investigations, writes to both Jethmalani and to Prannoy Roy of NDTV, in a strong letter accusing NDTV of these and more. (HT Alpha Ideas)

There are multiple accusations, and let’s take them one by one.

The Sexual Harassment Case and Abuse of the Law

The two IT officers – Shumana Sen and Ashima Neb – accused Shrivastava of sexual harassment. The report of the Vishakha committee created to investigate this case has noted that there was no harassment of any kind. Supposedly he used some bad language, and this was construed as sexual harassment. I think this is not what the law was made for – it was to protect women against overtures, and there were no overtures discovered by the panel which had  mostly women on it.

Secondly, it’s important to note that Ms. Sen’s husband worked with NDTV, and Ms. Sen was the assessing officer, supposedly, of NDTV.

The Europe Trip of Ms. Sen Sponsored by NDTV

So Shumana Sen apparently went to this fancy all expense paid Europe trip. Her husband worked for NDTV. Ms. Sen says it was a part of her husband’s salary, but Gurumurthy determines it was not because no one else at her husband’s (Abhisar Sharma) grade got this kind of perk, and Jethmalani says it cost Rs. 1 crore.

This would’ve been okay, but Ms. Sen had assessed NDTV’s accounts, and given them a refund of Rs. 1.47 crores, according to both Gurumurthy and Jethmalani. Additionally, they say, this relationship was not revealed by Ms. Sen at the time of her assessment, and she didn’t say while going to the foreign trip that she had assessed NDTV which was paying for that trip. This, if true, is a huge integrity issue, and must be investigated.

Unknown end-source of 300 Million Step Up Bonds Issued By NDTV

This is the laundering accusation. Jethmalani states that in 2006-07 a London subsidiary got 300 million pounds in the UK in the form of Step-Up coupon bonds (low initial interest payment, which goes up later). This was lying idle for about two years, he says, before it was moved to the Mumbai NDTV entity in 2009 through a Mauritius intermediary.

Both Gurumurthy and Jethmalani accuse NDTV of not revealing the final source of the money that subscribed to these bonds. Further, Jethmalani says the liability was “written off” while Gurumurthy disputes Prannoy Roy’s submission that bondholders have been paid off (because the proof of paying them back is incomplete or unreliable or absent!).

The whole Mauritius piece, according to Jethmalani, involved a trip to Mauritius by Ms. Ashima Neb (who if you recall was one of Shrivastava’s accusers of sexual harassment) that cost upwards of Rs. 12 lakh, which he implies was not paid by Ashima Neb.

Shrivastava was hounded

The investigating tax officer, SK Shrivastava, was not just accused and later absolved of sexual harassment. He was suspended on these charges and others too, says Madhu Kishwar. He was declared as having a mental disorder and thus unreliable by VIMHANS, a private hospital in Delhi, says Madhu. This report was quickly withdrawn when other doctors said there was no such problem and there was a potential investigation by the Medical Council of India.

All of the three – Madhu Kishwar, Jethmalani and Gurumurthy allege that Shrivastava got the short end of the stick for investigating the NDTV money flow.

There’s a Legal Notice Too

Madhu Kishwar apparently received a legal notice with an apologise-or-else type of wording. It’s a little strange to send that kind of letter when you are a media entity yourself, to be honest. But I don’t think everyone’s being honest here.

I suppose if I write about it, I should get this kind of notice as well, but let me point out to the lawyers, that I’m pretty much paraphrasing what others have said, and linking to what seem to me as documents that are undisputedly letters written by the said gentlemen and lady. However, the fear of a legal notice can’t determine what you do in life, so I’m posting this anyhow.

My View

There needs to be an investigation. If it can’t be done now, the next government should do it. These accusations have enormous number of official documents with them, and they seem like they’re true. We need a real investigation and if the CBI has to be called in, they should be.

If the media has been funded by “black money”, then we should really get to the source of the step up coupon bonds, even if we had to use the banking system to do so (i.e. get the UK entity’s bank statements and find out where the money was routed from).

False allegations of sexual harassment make it easy for real harassers to accuse victims instead. This is shameful and while the law allows no action, we need to find a way to ensure that such abuse is not tolerated.

It is easy to accuse Chidambaram of stopping investigations or of hounding Shrivastava, but the reports don’t seem to have enough dope against him. The allegations that seem to be supported are the source of the funds of the 300 million pound bonds, and the case of Ms. Sen’s husband being employed with NDTV while she was the assessing officer. The rest will still need more evidence to prove wrongdoing.

But there is a scam all right. The sum of Rs. 5,000 cr. is somewhat large (in my head, even 1/100th of that amount is large). The government would do well to allow a less partial investigation into this and give a detailed reports so that India, in Arnab’s dream conclusion, actually knows. 

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