By Anand Singh
New Delhi, March 11 (IANS) The Popular Front of India (PFI) – set up as an offshoot of National Development Fund in Kerala and accused by the UP government of instigating anti-CAA riots last year – allegedly used to collect cash from Gulf countries. For collection of these funds, the organisation appointed its members, who sent the money through illegal hawala transactions or through remittances that were never deposited in the bank account of the organisation, an Enforcement Directorate (ED) investigation has revealed.
The ED probe also found that the PFI had collected United Arab Emirates Dirham (AED) 50,000 against a target of collecting AED 12.5 lakh (valued at Rs 2.5 crore in Indian currency at the current exchange rate) by August 7 last year from Abu Dhabi.
The ED has filed its first charge sheet against five office bearers of the PFI and its student wing, the Campus Front of India (CFI), including arrested National General Secretary of the CFI K. A. Rauf Sherif in connection with its money laundering probe in February this year.
The ED charge sheet which has been viewed by IANS claims that Sherif admitted that he had joined the CFI in 2013-14 and was a member of the PFI from 2015-16 till 2017-18. The ED said that Sherif was appointed in its National Committee and in January 2019, appointed as National General Secretary of the organisation.
The ED further alleged that Sherif was in constant touch with some members and office bearers of the PFI and CFI, which proves his continuous linkages with the top leadership of the PFI.
The ED said, “During his questioning, Sherif admitted that PFI collects funds in Gulf countries where PFI has appointed members in their District Committee Executives (DECs) who approach people like business entities, businessmen and general public, and that funds are mainly collected in cash.”
The ED said that Sherif also stated that there are a lot of PFI members working as DECs in Gulf countries and Noufal Shareef, who was his friend was also a member of the PFI, working in a private company in Oman.
The ED claimed that Sherif also travelled to Oman in December 2018 and joined as a General Manager for Race International LLC in Oman through Noufal, whom he knew through his friend Fahad, a CFI member based in Oman.
The ED said, “During the searches at the premises of the PFI on December 3 last year, the agency had got the list containing the names and details of PFI functionaries based in Gulf countries, in which Noufal’s name is also mentioned.”
The financial probe agency said: “The ED also seized a list during the searches in which it was revealed that a target of AED 12.5 lakh (around Rs 2.5 crore at the prevailing exchange rate) was fixed for collection of funds from Abu Dhabi and that out of which 4 per cent of the target (about AED 50,000) was collected till August 7, 2020.”
Connecting the foreign funding link, the ED said: “These documents corroborate the voluntary submissions of Sherif and establish the fact that PFI has been collecting funds from Gulf countries such as UAE, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Kuwait, Bahrain etc.”
The ED also said that Sherif’s statement that in the Indian Committee of PFI, there are certain leaders, who coordinate with the work of the DEC in Gulf countries and that PFI has “accountants to manage their funds to show them as funds from legal sources”.
The financial probe agency said: “ED probe has revealed that these overseas fund collections are not deposited in any of the bank accounts maintained by PFI.”
The ED said that further during the course of search at the PFI’s premises, the agency seized a document, in which PFI has responded to the allegations of money laundering and has stated on record that it is their “established policy not to accept foreign funds for its activities, and it has been successful in adhering to this policy without fail”.
“This establishes the fact that funds collected by PFI functionaries settled or working abroad are being sent to India through illegal channels such as hawala or through remittances from Gulf countries to members or sympathisers of PFI and its related organisations in India through other underground or illegal channels,” the ED alleged.
The PFI is being probed by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in connection with the charges of money laundering. The ED had earlier claimed that the PFI has received funds to the tune of Rs 100 crore through illegal channels.
Sherif was arrested by ED on December 12, last year when he was trying to flee to Oman.
The ED case was primarily registered in 2018 taking the 2013 Narath PFI armed training case as the predicate offence. Later, the case registered by the UP Police against Siddique Kappan and three others last year was included as part of the money laundering case against PFI.
(Anand Singh can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
By Anand Singh