A day after income tax officers spent more than 12 hours in the offices of news sites NewsClick and Newslaundry – over allegations of tax evasion – Newslaundry co-founder Abhinandan Sekhri told NDTV that he was not allowed to call his lawyer or accountant during the “poll”.
Mr Sekhri told NDTV that officials took everyone’s phones and ordered them not to leave. He said his personal laptop and phone were also taken and data from those devices copied, despite his objections to a possible violation of his basic right to privacy.
“They took everyone’s phones… said no one could go out. I asked if I could talk to my lawyer or my accountant, and they said you couldn’t. .so I couldn’t call, ”Mr. Sekhri said. NDTV.
“They also took my phone and my laptop … I told them it was a violation of my basic right to privacy, but they said ‘no, … we can do it’,” he said, adding that “courteously and professionally,” officials then asked him questions about the creation of Newslaundry and its investors.
He told NDTV that this information had already been submitted earlier – when IT raided Newslaundry’s offices in June – and simply resubmitted it, stressing: “We have nothing to hide … we conduct our business with honesty and integrity ”.
Mr Sekhri, however, underlined his unease with the taking of personal data (he did not receive a signed digital copy), pointing out that his devices contained medical information and family photos.
“From what I understand they can only take information related to tax matters … my phone and laptop have medical data, family photos … I don’t see how the law allows this “, did he declare.
“… not comfortable with my right to privacy being violated.”
He also pointed out that as a journalist, his phone and laptop could contain inside information.
Earlier today, Mr Sekhri posted an official statement on Twitter, in which he said he was told “… the law requires that I comply without seeking legal advice.”
– Abhinandan Sekhri (@AbhinandanSekhr) September 11, 2021
NewsClick has yet to release a statement on the visit from IT managers.
Officials said yesterday’s “investigative” operation was aimed at verifying certain details of tax payments and remittances made by the organizations.
The IT team has just left. Thank you all for your support and concern and the hundreds of missed calls and texts. I will make a statement tomorrow. I’m sure our team at @newslaundry didn’t slack off and did what they signed up for – brilliant journalism. Lage raho ….
– Abhinandan Sekhri (@AbhinandanSekhr) September 10, 2021
According to the Income Tax Act, an “investigation” is limited to business premises and office hours. Account books and inventories can be viewed but cannot be entered.
Laundry offices were raided in June and it is not known what prompted a second visit by the “tax authorities” in a few months.
It is also the second time that NewsClick has been visited.
They were raided by the Enforcement Directorate in February in connection with a money laundering case related to allegedly dubious foreign funds received by the registered company that operates the site.
The Delhi High Court has granted provisional protection from arrest to Newsclick founder / editor Prabir Purkayastha in connection with the investigation. The court also granted him protection against coercive actions in the Enforcement Directorate case.