Karnataka HC allows Amnesty India to withdraw Rs 60 lakh from frozen bank accounts

The court allowed the withdrawal as the organisation had petitioned the court seeking it to unfreeze the bank accounts to make salary and statutory payments.
Karnataka High Court
Karnataka High Court
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The Karnataka High Court on Wednesday allowed Amnesty International India to withdraw Rs 60 lakh from five bank accounts to pay salaries of their employees, among other things. The High Court’s order comes after the Enforcement Directorate in September this year froze Amnesty International India’s bank accounts after it began a probe into alleged money laundering activities of the international Non-governmental Organisation (NGO).

In October this year, the Indians for Amnesty International Trust approached the Karnataka High Court seeking to unfreeze its bank accounts as it had to utilise the funds to pay salaries, statutory payments and bear “other running expenses”. The single-judge bench of Justice PS Dinesh Kumar partly allowed the petitioner’s request and allowed it to withdraw only Rs 60 lakh, mainly for paying salaries. 

On December 10, the Karnataka High Court had reserved its order and had asked the Enforcement Directorate to “strike a balance and close the matter”. Amnesty’s legal counsel Ravivarma Kumar informed the court that the organisation is “interested in working for human rights” and that the ED had not provided any information for the seizure of its bank accounts. He also argued that the ED had not taken the matter to the adjudication authority within 30 days of freezing the bank accounts. 

"This is a very serious matter. Repeatedly we are being harassed. We are only interested in working for human rights." He had added that "Seizure has taken place and no reasons have been recorded and no order is passed and within 30 days matter is not taken before the adjudicating authority as prescribed. Therefore, it is ultra vires of section 17 (1) (A) of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA),” Live Law quoted Ravivarma Kumar as saying

Following the freezing of its bank accounts in September this year, Amnesty had announced that it would stop its operations in India. The petition filed by Amnesty in the High Court stated that it is a charitable trust and does not receive any donations from “foreign sources” and hence is not covered under Prevention of Money laundering Act. 

In December 2018, the ED wrote a letter to the Union Home Secretary, declaring that Amnesty International India had violated norms under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA). It had said that after preliminary investigation, it had directed the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to conduct further investigation.

The CBI registered an FIR against Amnesty and others, under various sections of the FCRA in 2019. The ED summoned Avinash Kumar, Executive Director of Amnesty International (India), in August this year for questioning. In its plea with the High Court, Amnesty stated that it had offered complete cooperation to the investigation agencies in connection with the probe. 

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