A day after Income Tax officers spent over 12 hours at the offices of news websites NewsClick and Newslaundry – calling it a “survey” linked to tax evasion allegations – Newslaundry co-founder Abhinandan Sekhri tweeted to say “… was told I cannot speak to my lawyer… the law requires me to comply without seeking legal advice”.
Mr Sekhri also said he was ordered to “hand over my phone” and that data on personal electronic devices was downloaded; “… in my understanding this… violates my fundamental right to privacy”, he added.
“A team from the Income Tax department came to the registered office of Newslaundry at approximately 12:15 in the afternoon of September 10 and conducted a ‘survey’ under Section 133A… They left the premises at around 12:40 on September 11. I was told I cannot speak to my lawyer and have to hand over my phone,” Mr Sekhri tweeted.
“… was told the law requires me to comply without seeking legal advice. They searched and looked through all computer devices at the premises. My personal mobile phone and laptop and a couple of office machines were taken control of and all data on them downloaded by the IT team. In my understanding this (taking all data from my personal mobile phone and laptop) violates my fundamental right to privacy,” he wrote.
— Abhinandan Sekhri (@AbhinandanSekhr) September 11, 2021
Mr Sekhri said he was not given a “signed hash value of the data copied”.
“The team… was courteous and professional,” he added, emphasising, “We have nothing to hide… are not in any breach or violation of any law… we conduct our business honestly and with integrity”.
The team from the IT department just left. Thank you all for your support & concern & the hundreds of missed calls & texts. I will issue a statement tomorrow. Am sure our team at @newslaundry didn’t slack off & did what they signed up to do – awesome journalism. Lage raho….
— Abhinandan Sekhri (@AbhinandanSekhr) September 10, 2021
NewsClick has yet to release a statement on the IT officials’ visit.
Officials have said yesterday’s “survey” operation was to verify certain tax payment details and remittances made by the organisations.
According to the Income Tax Act, a “survey” is restricted to the business premises and office hours. Account books and inventories can be examined but cannot be seized.
Newslaundry offices were raided in June and it is unclear what prompted a second visit from the ‘taxman’ within a few months.
This is also the second time NewsClick have been visited.
They were raided by the Enforcement Directorate in February in connection with a money laundering case linked to allegedly dubious foreign funding received by the registered company that runs the site.
The Delhi High Court has granted interim protection from arrest to Newsclick’s founder/editor-in-chief Prabir Purkayastha in connection with the probe. The court has also granted him protection from coercive action in the Enforcement Directorate case.