Omidyar Network has been caught in a huge foreign bribery scandal in India. The case involves allegations of MHA employees and private consultants colluding to facilitate improper clearances for NGOs under the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act.
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The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) named the “promoters of NGO Omidyar” in a First Information Report (FIR) lodged on May 10 a year after the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) added the US-based philanthropic investment company Omidyar Network on a watch list, limiting all foreign donations from the organization.
The case involves allegations of MHA employees and private consultants colluding to facilitate improper clearances for NGOs under the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act. The FIR mentions 36 people as suspects. “Promoters of NGO Omidyar,” according to the list of defendants, but no other information is provided. NGOs must obtain approval to collect foreign funds underneath the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA).
Omidyar has invested in well-known media websites like Newslaundry, Scroll, and The Ken, as well as giving funding to think tanks, institutions, and advocacy groups like the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), Ashoka University, and the Centre for Policy Research.
As per Omidyar’s website, the company aided NITI Aayog during the planning stage of the National Data and Analytics Platform (NDAP) by assisting a group headed by IDinsight and Development Data Lab.
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According to the FIR, on April 24, Devesh Chandra Mishra, a Delhi resident, got in touch FCRA employee Tushar Kanti Roy “for clearing of permission for receiving foreign remittance worth ₹3 crore as donation for an NGO namely Omidyar.” The accused official told him that the approval would be granted, but “demanded 10% of the total remittance as bribe.” “The promoters of NGO Omidyar were ready to pay ₹5 lakh,” Mishra informed the official. Ultimately, the official is reported to have requested a bribe of at least 7% of the overseas donation, claiming that he too would have to give payments to others.
The MHA has discovered at least three consultants who were providing NGOs with FCRA-related services. The purported racket, which involved former and current MHA employees, had been going on for six months.
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) raided 40 sites throughout India on Tuesday.
A senior government official explained the strategy, saying, “The consultants were found offering facilitation services to the NGOs for renewal of their registration for a fee. They obtained information from the Ministry officials on where the NGO’s file was stuck in the system. They contacted the said NGO and offered speedy renewal against a fee.”
According to the official, minor NGOs were charged 2 lakh each, while larger organizations were made to pay a distinct rate list that could go up to 15 lakh. When one of the NGOs contacted by the consultants protested to Ministry authorities, the fraud was uncovered.
One of the consultancies under investigation by the CBI, Shaurya Business Solutions Pvt Ltd, has a dedicated subsection on the FCRA on its website, advertising services including renewal, filing yearly returns, and even new registration. When the media called the contact information posted on the website on Wednesday, none of them were answered. The “about us” section of the website claimed, “We are a team of professionals including chartered accountants, company secretaries, lawyers, cost accountants, MBAs who possess expertise across a wide range of business needs. We provide various services online as well as offline as per your requirement.”
Since 2021, the FCRA registration of thousands of NGOs has been due for renewal, a procedure that has been hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to the sluggish renewal procedure, the Ministry has granted multiple extensions, with the most recent date being pushed back to June 30.
It’s not the first occasion the FCRA section has been tarnished by allegations of corruption. The CBI raided the house of a Home Ministry officer Anand Joshi in 2016 on the MHA’s allegation for his alleged complicity in corrupt activities. In November 2015, the accused sent an arbitrary notice to the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE). Mr. Joshi came under scrutiny, according to a CBI official, because he unilaterally handed standard questionnaires to a few NGOs, the first stage in investigating foreign money breaches under the FCRA.
After several NGOs complained of officials seeking bribes to renew their registration, the MHA resorted to an online renewal method for FCRA-registered NGOs in 2016. Renewals are carried out every five years.
Nearly 6,000 NGOs’ FCRA registrations expired on January 1 because the MHA refused to renew their applications or the NGOs did not seek for registration. As of May 10, there were 16,890 FCRA-registered NGOs, down from over 22,000 as of December 31, 2021.