New Delhi: A full-page advertisement in the leading US newspaper Wall Street Journal calling out Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and 10 senior government officials has stirred up a controversy Saturday. Calling them ‘Modi’s Magitsky 11’, the advertisement introduced them as officials who make India “an unsafe place to invest”. It also features a QR code at the bottom, which leads to a website of the US-based think tank Frontiers of Freedom.
Apart from Sitharaman, Antrix chairman Rakesh Sasibhushan, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, Additional Solicitor General N. Venkatraman, Justices Hemant Gupta and V. Ramasubramanian of the Supreme Court, CBI DSP Ashish Pareek, ED director Sanjay Kumar Mishra, deputy director A. Sadiq Mohamed Naijnar and assistant director R. Rajesh, and special judge Chandra Shekhar .
The timing of the advertisement has also raised many eyebrows as Sitharaman is currently in Washington to attend the annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. The finance minister, who reached Washington on 11 October, will remain there till 16 October.
“These Modi Government officials have decimated the rule of law by weaponizing the institutions of the state to settle scores with political and business rivals, making India unsafe for investors.
“We have asked the US government to impose economic and Visa sanctions against them under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act. Under Modi, a decline in the rule of law has made India a dangerous place to invest. If you are an investor in India, you might be next,” reads the ad’s published on 13 October.
Founded by U.S. Senator Malcolm Wallop in 1995, the Frontiers of Freedom (FF) is headed by George Landrith who has been holding the position since 1999.
On its website, the organisation describes itself as “an educational foundation” promoting the principles of “individual freedom, peace through strength, limited government, free enterprise, free markets, and traditional American values”.
Kanchan Gupta, a senior advisor at the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, claimed that the campaign is being run by Ramachandran Viswanathan, the former CEO of Devas Multimedia.
In September, a special court in Bengaluru had allowed the Enforcement Directorate (ED) to declare Viswanathan as a ‘fugitive economic offender’ in connection with a money laundering case.
Viswanathan’s firm was caught up in a conflict with the Indian government as a contract for developing wireless broadband was cancelled in 2011.
The Bengaluru-based startup company was liquidated in May 2021 by the National Company Law Tribunal and a case was filed against US-based Viswanathan and nine others for allegedly diverting 85 percent of foreign investment worth Rs 529 crore it received after a 2005 satellite deal with the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).
In August, the Frontier of Freedom had filed a petition earlier under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, which authorises the US President to impose economic sanctions and deny entry into America to any foreigner identified as engaging in human rights abuse or corruption.
The document of the petition mentions that the FF is submitting the petition in cooperation with Viswanathan, on behalf of him and Devas Multimedia America Inc.
According to the petition, the FF sought “redressal of blatant abuses of authority by Indian officials who have wrongfully used India’s criminal investigation agencies and courts in a campaign to circumvent liability over a contract dispute”.
FF president George Landrith, meanwhile, tweeted the advertisement that came out on WSJ.
“The actions of Indias Magnitsky11, Sitharaman, Narendra Modi & BJP send a clear message to potential investors in India: India is a dangerous place to invest!” he said in another tweet.
ThePrint reached Freedom of Landrith for comment via email. The report will be updated as and when a response is received.