Journalist Rana Ayyub stopped at Mumbai airport, ED issues summons just before her UK trip

ON Tuesday, journalist and writer Rana Ayyub was stopped at Mumbai’s international airport prior to her boarding a flight to the United Kingdom, after the Enforcement Directorate [ED] reportedly issued a “look out circular” against her. Ayyub was to fly to London to give a speech at the International Centre for Journalists [ICFJ].

The journalist and author of ‘Gujarat Files‘ said that she had been stopped in spite of her public announcement weeks ago regarding her speech at the ICFJ and that the ED’s summons arrived at the last moment only after she was barred from boarding her flight. She tweeted“I was stopped today at Mumbai immigration from travelling to deliver this address & onwards to @journalismfest to deliver the keynote speech on Indian democracy. I had made this announcement public over weeks, yet the ED summon very curiously arrived in my inbox after I was stopped”.

Following the incident, several international news-media watchdogs and rights bodies, including the ICFJ, expressed concern at her treatment. The ICFJ tweeted that it was “alarmed” at the “blatant legal harassment” of Ayyub by Indian authorities.

Why is the ED summoning Ayyub?

During the first and second waves of COVID-19, Ayyub collected funds for charity via the crowdfunding website, ‘Ketto’. On August 28, 2021, a Ghaziabad-based man named Vikas Sankrityayan, who is reportedly the founder of an NGO named ‘Hindu IT Cell’, registered a complaint with the Ghaziabad police against Ayyub, alleging that she had used the crowdfunding programs between April 2020 to June 2021 on the ketto.com site to cheat the public on the pretext of charity. Later, on September 7, 2021, police lodged a first information report [FIR] against her, including various provisions of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, the Indian Penal Code and the Information Technology Act. Following this FIR, the ED initiated a money laundering probe against her,

In February, the ED attached 1.77 crore rupees from Ayyub’s finances, having alleged that this money was wrongfully obtained.

The news agency ANI quoted the ED officials as saying that Ayyub “allegedly didn’t utilise donations meant for three campaigns for the right purpose.” The source added that “parts of donations were allegedly used for personal expenses”. Meanwhile, in a statement shared on her social-media accounts, Ayyub refuted these allegations, and pointed out that she had raised a total of Rs 2,69,44,679 or approximately 2.7 million rupees and had “provided all bills and invoices for the relief work undertaken by me, which is to the tune of Rs 40 lakh.” She also said that “[a]s per Ketto’s procedure, all donors to my campaigns made donations to Ketto’s bank account, which after deducting processing charges, would forward the same for the relief campaign to the designated 2 bank accounts, who in turn would then transfer the entire amount received from Ketto to my bank account”, adding that no foreign donations were received by her or the bank accounts.

Meanwhile, the ED claimed that approximately Rs 2,69,44,680 worth of funds were raised on the crowdfunding website by Ayyub. “Out of this amount, Rs 72,01,786 was withdrawn in her own bank account, Rs 37,15,072 was withdrawn in her sister Iffat Shaikh’s account and Rs 1,60,27,822 was withdrawn in her father Mohd Ayyub Waquif’s bank account. All these funds from her sister’s and father’s account were subsequently transferred in her own account,” claimed ED sources, as per reports.

It was further reported that Ayyub submitted information/documents of expense to the tune of Rs 31.16 lakhs but the agency claimed that after their verification, they found the actual expenses were only of Rs 17,66,970. “Fake bills were found to have been prepared by Ayyub in the name of some entities to claim expenses on relief work. Expenses made for personal travel by air were claimed as expense for relief work,” the ED said

The ED also alleged that the journalist had deposited some of the funds by opening a separate current bank account, and also created a fixed deposit worth 50 lakh rupees from the funds raised, which were later not utilised for relief works. Ayyub also donated amounts of Rs 74.50 lakh in the PM CARES fund and the Maharashtra Chief Minister’s Relief Fund, the ED said.

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