ED may invoke the Fugitive Act against Zakir Naik

ED may invoke the Fugitive Act against Naik

Zakir Naik Zakir Naik | Sanjay Ahlawat

So far, Indian authorities have failed to convince Interpol to issue a red corner notice against preacher Zakir Naik. They could, however, nail him in a money-laundering case, thereby initiating a move to bring him back from Malaysia to India. “The Enforcement Directorate is considering invoking the Fugitive [Economic Offenders] Act against him,” ED director S.K. Mishra told THE WEEK.

On May 2, the agency named Naik in its charge-sheet, saying it had identified Rs 193.06 crore as the proceeds of crime. The ED’s investigation is based on a National Investigation Agency probe on Naik for spreading communal disharmony, misusing funds for terror activities and money laundering. It is the ED’s second charge-sheet in the case; the first one did not name Naik.

The ED has provisionally attached some of Naik’s properties worth Rs 50.46 crore, including the Islamic International School in Chennai, 10 flats, three godowns, land in Pune and Mumbai, and 10 bank accounts. Investigations are on to identify his assets abroad; it is said he is developing bungalows in Dubai.

According to the ED, Naik’s Mumbai-based Islamic Research Foundation got Rs 64.86 crore from suspicious sources during 2013-2017. These funds were used to conduct conferences that featured provocative speeches and religious conversions. The ED will file an application to declare him a fugitive after a court in Mumbai takes cognisance of its charge-sheet.

The ED’s move came soon after Prime Minister Narendra Modi told voters at a recent rally that Naik’s videos were found on one of the terrorists who bombed Sri Lanka on April 21.

Days later, the NIA arrested suspected Islamic State operative Riyas A., who allegedly said he was inspired by Naik. “He admitted that he wanted to carry out a suicide attack in Kerala,” said NIA officers. Indian investigators of IS cases say that, in the past few years, other suspects have also spoken of Naik.

The preacher first made global headlines after one of the terrorists who attacked a cafe in Dhaka, in July 2016, said he was inspired by him. Dhaka had alerted Delhi, which decided to crack down on Naik and the IRF. Naik was abroad at the time. And fearing arrest, he did not return to India.

The NIA charge-sheeted Naik in October 2017. “The probe established that the incriminating speeches were circulated through electronic media and continue to be seen across the world,” the NIA said. The charge-sheet said he deliberately insulted the beliefs of Hindus, Christians and non-Wahhabi Muslims. The government blocked various websites related to Naik and the IRF, and has approached YouTube and Facebook to remove Naik’s videos.

The NIA also unravelled the complex financial networks run by Naik and IRF, which received huge donations in India and from abroad. Most of the acknowledgement receipts had ‘Well Wisher’, instead of the donor’s name.

Pursuing this money trail, the ED registered a case of money laundering against Naik in 2016. And since then, Indian agencies have been on his trail. Though he has been served many notices to join the investigation in India, Naik has refused to do so. “I can come if the Supreme Court assures me of a fair trial,” Naik told THE WEEK. “I don’t want to become a political scapegoat.”

Naik has also offered to organise counter-radicalisation activities in India. “My speeches have been misconstrued by enemies of Islam. I want to tell the Muslim youth to not resort to violence and killings,” he said.

Said an investigator: “The ball is in Naik’s court, he can do both.”