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As ED scrutinises 3,000 bank accounts of PFI, spotlight on bogus donations and fishy beneficiaries

PFI faces credibility crisis as major donors turn out to be vendors and hapless poor

Police try to detain PFI activists during a protest in Hubballi | PTI Police try to detain PFI activists during a protest in Hubballi | PTI

Bogus cash donations, fake slips, fishy bank accounts, blank addresses, missing PAN card details and contributors like vendors and rickshaw pullers who did not have any financial profiles have been found to be either the donors or beneficiaries of the nearly 3,000 bank accounts of Popular Front of India (PFI) which has come under the biggest anti-terror investigation in the country in recent times.

What is noteworthy is that the PFI has officially maintained that it does not receive foreign funds as an ''established policy'', but incriminating documents seized during search operations and statements given by some of the arrested accused tell a different story.

The Enforcement Directorate (ED) has got seven-day custody of three PFI leaders facing money laundering charges while the NIA has got four-day custody of 18 arrested accused booked under the stringent anti-terror law, the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. The ED has got custody of Pervez Ahmed, PFI Delhi president; Mohammed Iliyas, PFI Delhi general secretary and Abdul Muqeet, PFI office secretary. Both agencies told the court that the accused were collecting and raising funds from within India and abroad through banking channels, hawala donations and so on which were in turn diverted to terrorist acts in various parts of the country.

As investigators sifted through the 3,000 bank accounts of PFI across 38 locations in the country in the last four years, they found that the fund collection was a sham as it was falsely projected as contributions from PFI sympathisers , whereas statements of individuals, projected as contributors, revealed that they either did not know about the cash remittances and withdrawals from their accounts as these accounts were being operated by PFI members. These contributors were poorest of the poor who had no idea about the financial flows because their accounts had been opened at the behest of PFI and were being used without their knowledge, said an investigator. The second modus operandi was fake donation slips in names of individuals who either did not exist or did not have the financial wherewithal to make a donation and did not pay Income Tax returns. Huge amounts of donations were seen in such names, added the investigator.

At the moment, the investigating agencies are analysing the financial profiles and accounts of the donors of PFI and the recipients in greater detail. As skeletons tumble out, the PFI is expected to suffer an image hit as several questions are raised about the sympathisers against whose names donations are shown to have been collected from house-to-house drives. With investigators claiming a large number of people, sympathetic to the organisation in its strongholds of Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh have been duped, the outcome will decide the fate of the organisation that is witnessing the biggest crisis.

Pervez Ahmed, president of Delhi PFI since 2018, is learnt to have told investigators that no donation receipts are issued to donors when funds are collected by visiting houses of individuals and the entire money is taken to district presidents who take it to PFI headquarters. The account department fills up donation slips, signs them and hands them back to be given to donors. One copy of the slip remains in the account books. During his questioning, Pervez is learnt to have admitted that the details are incomplete and tried to pin the blame on the lower functionaries. He named Mohammed Ilyas as the person responsible for fundraising in the trans Yamuna region of Delhi NCR while he used to deposit cash with the accountant and manager at PFI's Shaheen Bagh office. The entire trail of bogus donations and bank transfers finally got corroborated with the statement of Abdul Muqeet and several individuals recorded under section 50 of the PMLA where the donors denied any association with PFI and said they had neither made the donation nor did they have the financial capacity to do so.

The fishy domestic funding then led investigators to foreign shores to understand the huge cash inflows. It is a matter of record that the PFI is not registered under the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act (FCRA), by the Union home ministry which means that it is not entitled to receive foreign funding under the law in any case. But the story was no different here. Investigators said the district executive committees in the Gulf—UAE, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia—were responsible for the funding that was allegedly camouflaged as remittances towards family members, relatives, business partners and so on. On paper, there was no foreign funding to the PFI, but the circuitous route is a matter of concern and further investigation.

The most worrisome part for the Union home ministry and investigating agencies is that the conspiracy does not end here. With slush funds, the arrested accused were involved in terrorist acts using weapons with the intention to strike terror in the public. On target were certain RSS and BJP leaders, said an investigator adding that more evidence is being collected to analyse the intelligence inputs. After the latest crackdown and arrests, the NIA and ED said the focus of the investigation is to join the dots on how this money was used to promote enmity, communal tension and radicalise minority youth to join proscribed terror outfits like ISIS and also revive the SIMI.

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