The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has approached the Supreme Court to cancel the anticipatory bail granted by Bombay High Court to Teesta Setalvad and her husband in a Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) violation case
The investigating agency has claimed that the duo misused the funds received by their trust-- Sabrang Communication and Publishing Pvt Ltd (SCPPL) which had got Rs 1.8 crore from US-based Ford Foundation without mandatory approval from the Centre.
CBI has challenged the order of the Bombay High Court granting anticipatory bail to the duo after it was denied by a sessions court saying the HC had erred in doing so despite there being “prima-facie” finding of fraud.
While the couple has denied all charges saying they have been victimised for taking up the cause of riots victims, the agency said after 'prima facie' holding that there was misuse of funds they had received from Ford Foundation for which they were "undoubtedly answerable", the high court ought not have granted anticipatory bail by using its extraordinary discretionary powers.
The High Court in the August 11 order observing that prima facie, it is unable find any threat to sovereignty and integrity of India or threat to the security strategic or economic interest of the State or public interest, the Court observed, “Undoubtedly, an Act which is seditious in nature and dangerous to the security of India, cannot be tolerated under the law. However, a citizen may conduct social activities and may hold a different philosophy or view which may not be liked by the government. However, in a democratic state, a citizen has right to have different ideology, belief and different point of view and it is a duty of the State to protect the said right to have freedom of expression to the same. A dissenting view or expression cannot be always said to be against sovereignty of the nation. The terms ‘against the nation’ and ‘against the government’ are two different terms.”
CBI said the high court ought to have considered that it was not a fit case for granting anticipatory bail to the couple as the alleged offence against them "can have a direct nexus with activity detrimental to the national interest, communal harmony, and the same cannot be unearthed by collecting the bank accounts or from the agreements alone".
"Interrogation of the respondents is absolutely required in such a situation and, therefore, the order of the high court harm the investigation to a large extent and impede the detection of the ramifications of the crime and the conspiracy involved in it," the CBI's petition said while assailing the high court verdict.
CBI also alleged that they used to come to the probe office with large number of people standing outside with placards chanting slogans to "pressurise" the agency.
While the high court had directed Setalvad and her husband to cooperate with the investigation and not instigate anyone to protest against CBI, the agency alleged that the couple did not cooperate with the probe and refused to share details of transactions.
CBI had on July 8 registered a case against Setalvad and Anand alleging that her firm SCPPL had received around USD 2.90 lakh (nearly Rs 1.8 crore) in foreign donations, violating FCRA provisions.
According to the agency, SCPPL was not registered under FCRA for collecting money from abroad and the amount of USD 2.90 lakh was, therefore, received in violation of the Act as the organisation needed to seek prior approval from the Union Home Ministry.
Further, foreign funds received by the couple in their two trusts -- Citizens for Justice and Peace and Sabrang Trust-- were frequently transferred to SCPPL also in complete violation of FCRA norms, the CBI said.
The agency said the high court ought to have considered that they have "surreptitiously" mixed foreign contribution with their domestic funds and committed offence under the law.
CBI has extensively quoted from the narrative reports submitted by Setalvad to the Foundation in which she herself has claimed that "since 2002, we have been regularly contacted by the US Embassy/Consulate Officials for credible information on the justice process in India.
"We understand that the factually accurate inputs provided by us have been quite helpful for the annual reports of the 'US Congressional Committee on Religious Freedom' as also the 'State Department’s Report on Human rights on India'.
It may be noted that this report put India in lower tyre in the religious freedom and made several unsubstantiated remarks on the country including Judiciary," the petition said