A little over twenty-four months ago, an inquiry conducted by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) revealed that NewsClick, a media portal, had secured funding amounting to approximately Rs 38 crore from overseas sources. The investigators were able to trace the path of these funds back to an American millionaire named Neville Roy Singham, who was alleged to maintain a significant connection with the propaganda division of the Communist Party of China (CPC).
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In India, a political dispute has erupted, with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) launching an attack on the Congress during a session in Parliament. On Monday, the BJP accused the Congress of receiving financial support from China.
BJP MP Nishikant Dubey addressed the parliament today, stating, “Money originating from China entered NewsClick. Using these Chinese funds, a campaign was orchestrated against the government.” He went on to claim that China had provided assistance to the Congress on multiple occasions, spanning from 2005 to 2015.
Soon after Dubey’s remarks in the Lok Sabha, Adhir Ranjan Choudhary, a Congress leader and MP, wrote to Speaker Om Birla, requesting the removal of the comments made by the BJP MP from the official records of the Lok Sabha.
At the time, the BJP highlighted the findings of the ED, asserting that elements with “anti-India” sentiments, collaborating with external forces, were involved in a “conspiracy to defame the country and target the government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.”
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Sambit Patra, a leader from the BJP, expressed, “All the US companies (associated with the fund flow to NewsClick) share a single address. This distinctly indicates that the operators of NewsClick were not merely engaged in a campaign to tarnish and destabilize the administration of Narendra Modi, but were also engaged in plotting against India, attempting to foment unrest and disrupt harmony.”
There were allegations suggesting a connection between the news portal and the Chinese government.
Fast forward two years, and a recent investigation by The New York Times unveiled an intricately interconnected network involving activist groups, nonprofit organizations, and shell corporations, all closely linked to China and Chinese propaganda. At the center of this network stands tech magnate Neville Roy Singham.
“In New Delhi, corporate filings show, Singham’s network financed a news site, NewsClick, that sprinkled its coverage with Chinese government talking points,” The New York Times said.
For a considerable period of time, China has been actively working to establish its economic and worldwide influence. In this endeavor, China capitalized on the international network of activists and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to construct a system that indirectly advances the interests of the Chinese nation and echoes the viewpoints of its government.
The investigation conducted by The New York Times brought to light China’s strategy of steering away from international condemnation of its violations of human rights. It demonstrated how China’s key messages regarding global affairs are skillfully integrated into global conversations via this intricate network.
“It is part of a lavishly funded influence campaign that defends China and pushes its propaganda. At the center is a charismatic American millionaire, Neville Roy Singham, who is known as a socialist benefactor of far-left causes,” the New York Times said.
The Money Trail
Donations amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars have been identified as originating from sources affiliated with Neville Roy Singham, which blend progressive advocacy with narratives aligned with the Chinese government.
The Enforcement Directorate successfully traced multimillion-dollar donations to NewsClick. Notably, India is not the sole recipient of funding from Singham’s network. The investigation conducted by The New York Times revealed that the funding trail extended to diverse recipients, including a news organization in Brazil, a think tank in Massachusetts, a venue for events in Manhattan, and a political party in South Africa.
At this moment, Nevilla Singham (69) is located in Shanghai. Within his network, one of the outlets is engaged in co-producing a YouTube show with partial financial support from Shanghai’s propaganda department. Additionally, two other channels within the tech mogul’s network are closely collaborating with a Chinese university to effectively “spread China’s voice to the world.”
Back in July, Neville Roy Singham participated in a workshop organized by the Communist Party centered on the international promotion of the party’s agenda. Despite this, Singham asserted that he operates independently and is not under the direction of the Chinese government.
How The Network Functions
According to a 2021 report from the Center for Information Resilience (CIR), a network of fabricated social media profiles was discovered to be employed for disseminating pro-China narratives. These profiles were also used to undermine individuals perceived as critics of the Chinese government while enhancing China’s sway and reputation on the global stage.
The intention behind the dissemination of this information was to disguise it as impartial content.
Although these networks were not directly linked to the Chinese government, they bore resemblance to pro-China networks previously shut down by social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.
The investigative report by The New York Times into Neville Roy Singham’s network detailed the mechanisms through which misinformation influenced mainstream conservative discussions.
Groups led by Singham have generated YouTube videos to advocate pro-Chinese viewpoints. Collectively, these videos have garnered millions of views. However, the sphere of influence doesn’t remain confined to the digital realm, nor is it solely centered on extolling Chinese virtues. These networks extend their influence into global politics as well.
Certain factions within Neville Roy Singham’s groups aimed to impact real-world politics. Members of these groups engaged with aides of congressmen, provided training to politicians in Africa, participated in South African elections as candidates, and orchestrated demonstrations in London’s Chinatown.
This process has given rise to far-left entities that echo the perspectives of the Chinese government. The New York Times highlighted that these groups echo one another and are echoed in turn by the Chinese state media.
How The Network Was Built
Based on the investigation by The New York Times, the network’s foundation rests on American nonprofit organizations. The probe exposed a complex web of charities and shell companies. Some entities, such as No Cold War, lack official legal standing but are intricately connected to Neville Roy Singham’s network through shared organizers and domain registration records.
Particularly noteworthy is No Cold War, primarily managed by American and British activists. These individuals argue that the West’s focus on China has diverted attention from critical concerns like climate change and racial inequality.
Additionally, “none of Singham’s nonprofits have registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, as is required of groups (in the US) that seek to influence public opinion on behalf of foreign powers. That usually applies to groups taking money or orders from foreign governments,” the investigation revealed.
While numerous affluent individuals have their names linked to nonprofit organizations, Neville Roy Singham deliberately maintained a concealed connection.
The investigation disclosed that four nonprofit organizations, bearing titles such as “United Community Fund” and “Justice and Education Fund,” possess minimal tangible presence. Their addresses were traced back to UPS store mailboxes located in Illinois, Wisconsin, and New York. Curiously, these four nonprofits emitted a “rain of funds from an unseen source.”
Public filings for these nonprofits do not list Singham as a board member or contributor. He has explicitly denied exerting control over them, stating, “I do not control them,” but acknowledging that he sometimes shares his viewpoints.
However, the investigation unveiled the close ties between Neville Roy Singham and the four nonprofits.
Among these nonprofits, the largest is overseen by Singham’s spouse, Jodie Evans. The group’s initial bylaws stipulate that Singham holds the authority to dismiss Evans and the entire board. Moreover, these bylaws dictate the organization’s dissolution upon Singham’s demise.
The remaining three groups were established by former employees of Thoughtworks, as revealed by The New York Times. Thoughtworks, founded by Singham in the 1980s, is a Chicago-based IT consulting company.
Tracking Network’s Influence
Substantial sums of money emanated from these nonprofit entities, with the funds being traced to diverse destinations, including a South African political party, YouTube channels within the United States, and nonprofits located in Ghana and Zambia.
The New York Times reported, “In Brazil, records show, money flowed to a group that produces a publication, Brasil de Fato, that intersperses articles about land rights with praise for Xi Jinping.”
These groups operate collaboratively, while carefully avoiding disclosure of their interconnections. They engage in cross-posting of articles and mutual sharing of content on social media platforms, all seemingly crafted to project the appearance of “independent content.”
Beyond these activities, the nonprofits have extended substantial financial support towards training initiatives at the Nkrumah School, situated in a renowned safari region of South Africa. This school regularly organizes boot camps attended by activists and politicians from various parts of Africa.
Based on US tax records, one of the nonprofit entities affiliated with the UPS store, known as the People’s Support Foundation, contributed at least $450,000 for training at the Nkrumah School. Jodie Evans, the wife of Neville Roy Singham, posted a picture of the school grounds, referring to it as “Roy’s new place.”
The investigation by The New York Times further revealed that in South Africa, the foundation channeled $5.6 million to entities operating the school, a news organization, and the Socialist Revolutionary Workers Party, a lesser-known party initiated before the 2019 election.
Insights from an interview with members of the party indicated that its focal point appeared to be China, overshadowing concerns about unemployment and poverty prevalent in Africa. Furthermore, members of the party were prohibited from raising questions about China’s behavior as a state.
Simultaneously, the boot camp integrated Chinese-related topics into its curriculum in an inconspicuous manner. The New York Times detailed, “At a recent session, reading packets said that the United States was waging a “hybrid war” against China by distorting information about Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the Xinjiang region, where Uyghurs were held in camps.”
In addition, tax records exposed that nearly $1.8 million funneled from one of the UPS store nonprofits to a Chinese media company named Maku Group. The mission of Maku Group is to “tell China’s story well,” and interestingly, the company shares office space with Neville Roy Singham in Shanghai.
Moreover, some years ago, Singham sent emails to acquaintances introducing a newsletter, now known as Dongsheng News, which covers China in English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese. Singham described Dongsheng as “provides unique progressive coverage of China that has been sadly missing,” according to correspondence with his friends.
Neville Roy Singham’s ‘Personal Views’
Although Neville Roy Singham’s networks have faced allegations of being linked to the Chinese government, the tech magnate adamantly refutes these accusations.
In an email response to The New York Times, he firmly stated, “I categorically deny and repudiate any suggestion that I am a member of, work for, take orders from, or follow instructions of any political party or government or their representatives. I am solely guided by my beliefs, which are my long-held personal views.”
Associates of Singham corroborated his affinity for Maoism, the foundational Communist ideology that contributed to the establishment of modern China. Singham had previously lauded Venezuela during Hugo Chávez’s tenure as a “remarkably democratic place” and expressed admiration for China’s governing approach, suggesting that there were lessons to be learned from it.
Majdi Haroun, a former Thoughtworks employee, recounted instances when Singham lectured him on the Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara. Haroun mentioned that colleagues sometimes humorously addressed each other as “comrades.”
During his tenure at Thoughtworks, Singham funded left-leaning initiatives. He sold the company to a private equity firm in 2017, at which point it had expanded to encompass 4,500 employees in 15 countries, including South Africa and Uganda. According to a copy of the sales agreement, the transaction was valued at $785 million, according to The New York Times.
Neville Roy Singham conveyed his rationale, stating, “I decided that at my age and extreme privilege, the best thing I could do was to give away most of my money in my lifetime.”
On a personal level, Singham’s wife, Jodie Evans, a co-founder of Code Pink, had previously been a vociferous critic of China’s authoritative regime. In 2015, she wrote on Twitter, “We demand China stop brutal repression of their women’s human rights defenders.”
However, Jodie Evans’ stance has shifted, now advocating support for China and portraying it as a “defender of the oppressed and a model for economic growth without slavery or war.”
“If the US crushes China,” she said in 2021, it “would cut off hope for the human race and life on Earth.”
Amid global condemnation by world leaders and human rights experts regarding China’s detention of Uyghurs, Evans takes a divergent view, labeling the Uyghurs as terrorists and offering her defense of their mass confinement. She expressed her sentiment in 2021, stating, “We have to do something.”
Simultaneously, Code Pink has emerged as a vocal supporter of the policies implemented by the Chinese government. In a video from 2021, a member of Code Pink staff likened the pro-democracy demonstrators in Hong Kong to the individuals who stormed the US Capitol on January 6 of the same year.
Additionally, activists associated with Code Pink have rebuffed evidence suggesting coerced labor practices in Xinjiang.
According to The New York Times investigation, Chinese state media accounts have shared posts from individuals and entities within Singham’s network on at least 122 occasions since February 2020. Most of these accounts are affiliated with No Cold War and Code Pink.