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Cobrapost is a non-profit Indian news website that was founded in 2005 by Aniruddha Bahal – the co-founder of Tehelka.[1] It is particularly known for its undercover investigative journalism.

Cobrapost
Cobrapost Logo.png
Cobrapost Logo
FounderAniruddha Bahal
Year founded2003; 16 years ago (2003)
CountryIndia
Based inNew Delhi
LanguageEnglish, Hindi
Websitewww.cobrapost.com

DescriptionEdit

According to Kalyani Chadha, Cobrapost led by Aniruddha Bahal consolidated undercover sting-generated news genre in India in 2005. Its secretly recorded conversations with 11 elected members of Indian parliament was aired by Aaj Tak. The news piece showed how bribes can manipulate the proceedings of the Indian parliament.[2]

Undercover investigative journalismEdit

Operation Duryodhana: money for parliamentary proceduresEdit

In 2005, along with Aaj Tak, Cobrapost conducted a sting operation that exposed eleven members (MPs) – ten from the Lok Sabha and one from the Rajya Sabha – accepting money for tabling their questions in the Parliament of India. The MPs allegedly accepted between 15,000 (US$220) and 110,000 (US$1,600) as bribes.[3] This investigation led to expulsion of eleven MPs from the Parliament,[4][5] the largest expulsion of MPs in the country's history.[5] The eleven MPs expelled in December 2005, after Cobrapost's sting report, were from four political parties: seven from the Bharatiya Janata Party, two from the Bahujan Samaj Party, one from the Rashtriya Janata Dal and one from the Indian National Congress.[6]

In 2007, a Rajya Sabha committee headed by Congress party leader Karan Singh stated that Cobrapost abetted corruption by offering a murky deal to the members of parliament. It filed a criminal complaint (FIR) against Cobrapost and Aaj Tak for the "offence of abetment as defined under Section 12 of the Prevention of Corruption Act 1988 by carrying out Operation Duryodhan and telecasting the same", according to The Times of India.[7]

Purchase of Rajya Sabha seatEdit

In a 2010 sting operation conducted in association with the IBN group, Cobrapost alleged that Kanwar Deep Singh was elected to India's Rajya Sabha from Jharkhand after he bought the votes of the state's members of legislative assembly (MLAs).[8] According to The Times of India, the IBN-Cobrapost exposé allegedly showed MLAs from the Congress party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, and the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha asking for bribes "to the tune of 1 crore (US$140,000) from middlemen in exchange for their votes in favor of a Rajya Sabha candidate".[9][10] The Jharkhand Mukti Morcha dismissed the allegations in the Cobrapost report because it lacked any credibility.[11]

Operation Red Spider: black money launderingEdit

In March 2013, Cobrapost alleged that three banks – HDFC, ICICI and Axis – in India were involved in money laundering, using false accounts to convert black money into white.[12][13]

In an undercover operation it called Operation Red Spider, Cobrapost stated that it had secretly recorded several videotapes to uncover corrupt practices at the three banks, after its staff posed as a minister's aide.[14] According to The Hindu, while it cannot vouch that the Cobrapost videotapes were authentic, the tapes show that the employees of these three banks were offering to convert black money into white.[15] Each of the three banks issued a press statement that denied the allegations and offered their cooperation in any investigation, according to The Hindu newspaper.[15] After Cobrapost allegations were made public, the Indian Finance Minister P. Chidambaram stated that he had talked with the chairmen of two of three banks and his office "wasn't jumping to any conclusions".[14]

According to Cobrapost, the staff at the three Banks offered to use forged Pan Cards and multiple accounts for their clients to launder money. It added that the banks offer their clients to use their bank lockers to store cash and "maintain fictitious accounts for seven years saying that all details vanish after this period."[16][17]

The undercover operation alleged that the education minister Sake Sailijanath of the Indian National Congress party government in Andhra Pradesh was willing to guarantee a 25 crore (US$3.6 million) hawala transaction. Sailijanath, according to The Economic Times, admitted that "he just put in a word to the bank officials" to help his friend needing a loan.[18] On 15 March 2013, the ICICI Bank suspended 18 employees. On 16 March 2013 HDFC Bank authorised Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu to undertake an autonomous forensic probe of bank employees assisting customers to circumvent income tax.[19]

The Deputy governor of RBI, Chakrabarty, in a statement on 21 March 2014, denied Cobrapost allegations and stated that not a single corrupt black money transaction actually happened at the accused banks. He added that "there is no scam that has happened, as no transaction has taken place. Let us not necessarily downgrade ourselves. Our system to prevent money laundering is perfect, absolutely nothing (wrong with it)".[20] According to the Firstpost news website, Cobrapost "slammed the Reserve Bank of India" for giving a clean chit to the corrupt banks it had named.[21]

In May 2013, Cobrapost expanded its allegations to include twelve state-owned banking institutions such as the State Bank of India, Bank Of Baroda, Punjab National Bank, Canara Bank, Indian Bank, IDBI, Indian Overseas Bank, Dena Bank, Corporation Bank, Allahabad Bank, Orient Bank of Commerce and Central Bank of India. It also alleged that seven private sector banks in India were also complicit in black money operations, namely Yes Bank, Dhanlaxmi Bank, Federal Bank, DCB Bank, ICICI Bank, HDFC Bank and Axis Bank. Cobrapost further alleged that four major Insurance companies in India were active in black money operations, including the LIC, Reliance Life, Birla Life and the Tata AIG joint venture.[22]

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) launched a detailed audit and investigation after the Cobrapost allegations. It scrutinized the books of accounts, the compliance and internal control procedures, and the operations at the accused companies. In June 2013, the RBI issued a statement that it found "no evidence of money laundering" but added that "any conclusive inference in this regard can be drawn only by an end-to-end investigation of the transactions by tax and enforcement agencies".[23] The RBI found the three banks to be guilty of violating the RBI-required "Know Your Customer" norms, and fined each bank a sum between 1 crore and 5 crore rupees.[23] In July 2013, the RBI fined twenty-two additional banks in India for the same violations, and issued cautionary letters to seven other banks including Citibank, Standard Chartered and Barclays where it did not find any violations.[24]

The StalkersEdit

In November 2013, Cobrapost along with the website Gulail claimed in tapes titled The Stalkers that in 2009, then Home Minister of Gujarat Amit Shah and his team stalked a woman for their Saheb.[25] The Indian National Congress alleged that the saheb was Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Chief minister of Gujarat.[26]

Audio tapes reveal Amit Shah, the Home Minister of Gujarat, ordered illegal surveillance of a young woman from Bangalore under instruction from an unnamed saheb, or boss. The police followed her inside malls, restaurants, gyms, and tracked her scheduled flights, hotel bookings, and visits to her mother at a hospital. The Indian National Congress alleged that the saheb was Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the chief minister of Gujarat.[26]

In May 2016, a young woman has told the Supreme Court that she is "thankful" that the Gujarat police was assigned to tail her, and urged the judges to block investigations to determine whether the surveillance was legal and ordered by Mr Modi.[27]

Operation Blue VirusEdit

In December 2013, Cobrapost accused many IT companies of misusing social media to help politicians with fake "likes" and "followers" to improve their popularity.[28][29] Cobrapost alleged that its associate editor Syed Masroor Hasan approached two dozen professional IT companies and they offered help in "reputation management" and to tarnish the reputations of political opponents.[30] Of the two dozen sting operations it conducted in 2013, Cobrapost stated that the name of Gujarat chief minister "Narendra Modi cropped up in around 5 to 6" stings.[30] According to Cobrapost, there was no guarantee that the same IT firms were working for one particular party only.[30] Cobrapost claimed how the undercover investigation uncovered infraction of the Information Technology Act, 2000, the Representation of the People Act, 1951 and the Income Tax Act, 1961, actionable under several provisions of the Indian Penal Code.[28]

Operation Falcon ClawEdit

An undercover operation resulting in a video named Operation Falcon Claw showed that eleven MPs from different parties agreed to lobby for a fictitious foreign company,[31] and also that MPs received money ranging from 50,000 (US$720) to 5,000,000 (US$72,000) for issuing recommendation letters.[32]

Operation JanambhoomiEdit

On 3 April 2014, Cobrapost published on their website about their investigation, Operation Janambhoomi, into the conspiracy behind the demolition of the Babri Masjid, in which they bring to light the conspiracy behind the events of 6 December 1992, which rewrote the history of modern India on communal lines.[33]

Operation 136: paid newsEdit

In March 2018, Cobrapost.com alleged that its undercover operation had uncovered the widespread continuing practice of journalistic corruption through paid news in India.[34][35] The allegations charged that numerous major Indian media groups were willing to accept money to plug polarizing Hindu nationalism ideas as news in exchange for money.[36][37][38] In its sting operation, Cobrapost stated that it approached the Times Group – the publisher of The Times of India, the India Today group, the Hindustan Times group, the Zee group, the New Indian Express group and other media houses – where it offered a payment of up to 500 crore (US$72 million) in cash to publish stories on Krishna and the Bhagavad Gita to first indirectly and later directly promote Hindutva ideology, communal and political gains.[39] All three media houses agreed to the offer to plug paid news, alleged Cobrapost, but mentioned that they may editorially criticize the activities. The groups discussed ways to make large cash payments, alleged Cobrapost.[39]

According to Cobrapost, the owners, as well as the senior executives, of major Indian media houses consented to engage in campaigns to induce communal discord and polarize the Indian electorate.[40][35][41] The twenty seven media houses and organizations alleged to be corrupt by Cobrapost included the Times of India group, India Today group, Hindustan Times group, Zee News, Network 18, Star India, Paytm, Dainik Jagaran, New Indian Express Group, Lokmat, Radio One, Suvarna News, Indigo 91.9FM, Bharat Samachar, Swaraj Express News, Sun Group, ABN Andhrajyothi, TV5 News, Dinamalar, Big FM, K News, India Voice, MVTV News, Open Media Network and others.[42][39] The Cobrapost sting alleged, reports The Indian Express, that senior executives involved in paid news included Kalli Purie, Vinnet Jain, Ajay Shekhar Sharma, Brijesh Mishra, Anil Dua, Purushottam Vaishnava, Rajiv Hegde from various major media groups in India.[42] According to Cobrapost, the Bartaman Patrika and Dainik Sambad declined to distribute advertisement with religious overtones.[43]

After the release of the Cobrapost.com sting report on "paid news", the Times Group in a May 26 2018 response called the report as "false, malicious, dishonest", a manufactured "fictitious scandal" presented with doctored quotes, and that the allegations do not reflect what actually happened.[39] The Times Group alleged that its journalists were involved in a sting on the Cobrapost team to uncover "imposters" and "criminals on bail with a past record of fraud and forgery" they suspected were posing as businessmen and organization trying to push a political ideology. No cash or payment was ever exchanged during this operation to or from Cobrapost, stated the Times Group.[39] The India Group similarly denied Cobrapost claims, stated that its editorial team never met the Cobrapost personnel, its advertisement group listens to all those who approach them, they condemn paid news, and consider Cobrapost's claim of paid news at India Today to be malicious.[39] The Suvarna News group with a regional presence in south India stated that Cobrapost maliciously altered the recordings and that its allegations are baseless. It further stated that they had alerted the state police officials of Cobrapost staff when he first contacted them to publish religious content.[42]

The New Indian Express Group denied the Cobrapost allegations, stated that they only met with the advertisement team who never promised "news" coverage and only discussed "advertisements", and alleged that their report had "conveniently buried" the cautionary statements about "legal vetting", checks and approval told to Cobrapost.[39] The Zee group similarly stated that the Cobrapost report presents a "deliberate and fraudulent misinterpretation and concoction of actual facts", by "craftily editing the video clips, the essence of the conversation has been distorted in a manner that the truth is compromised and a different issue is portrayed in order to harm and hurt the reputation of Zee Media".[44] In June 2018, Cobrapost denied Zee's statements and alleged that it "has not falsified, fabricated, concocted, tampered, doctored or altered in any manner whatsoever".[44]

According to Cobrapost, it did not finance the sting operations, an independent reporter Pushp Sharma self-financed the cost of meeting and secretly recording the owners and senior executives of 27 media houses in India. Once Sharma approached Cobrapost, it purchased the work product from Sharma. Cobrapost's founder Aniruddha Bahal admitted that the sting operations never made any payment to any media group or executive, and the tapes were "all about showing intent".[42]

DHFL allegationsEdit

In a press conference on January 29 2019, Cobrapost alleged that the Indian mortgage lender Dewan Housing Finance Corporation (DHFL) promoters "siphoned off about 31,000 crore (US$4.5 billion) through a network of shell companies". The company called the allegations as "mischievous".[45] On March 6 2019, according to the Business Standard, an independent chartered accountant firm investigated these allegations and disputed the Cobrapost report. According to the audit completed by the firm, DHFL has "not promoted any of the 26 shell companies" that Cobrapost alleged. It further stated that the companies alleged to be involved in the fraud by Cobrapost "do not have any directors in common" and "DHFL or its promoters do not have any shareholding in these companies" as claimed. The auditors disagreed with Cobrapost allegations, but found that the DHFL executives failed to follow their standard operating procedures and inadequately monitored its borrowers.[46]

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ Usha M. Rodrigues; Maya Ranganathan (2014). Indian News Media: From Observer to Participant. SAGE Publications. pp. 88 note 10. ISBN 978-93-5150-158-9.
  2. ^ Kalyani Chadha (2019). Howard Tumber; Silvio Waisbord (eds.). The Routledge Companion to Media and Scandal. Taylor & Francis. p. 539. ISBN 978-1-351-17298-1.
  3. ^ ""Operation Duryodhana" logged over 56 video, 70 audiotapes". The Hindu. 13 December 2005. Retrieved 13 December 2013.
  4. ^ "Indian MPs expelled for 'bribes'". BBC News. 23 December 2005. Retrieved 13 December 2013.
  5. ^ a b "11 Indian Parliament Members Expelled After Bribe Sting on TV". The New York Times. 24 December 2005. Retrieved 13 December 2013.
  6. ^ Ajay K. Mehra (2017). The Indian Parliament and Democratic Transformation. Taylor & Francis. p. 160. ISBN 978-1-351-25983-5.
  7. ^ Journalist booked for sting operation, Manoj Mitta, The Times of India (July 2 2007)
  8. ^ Shakuntala Rao; Vipul Mudgal (2018). Journalism, Democracy and Civil Society in India. Taylor & Francis. p. 139. ISBN 978-1-315-29379-0.
  9. ^ Channel airs sting on 'cash-for-vote' during Jharkhand RS poll, The Times of India (August 2 2010)
  10. ^ 'Cash-for-vote' demanded in J'khand poll, The Hindustan Times (August 3 2010)
  11. ^ JMM Trashes Vote-For-Cash in RS Polls, The Outlook (August 11 2010)
  12. ^ "Operation Red Spider 2: Modus operandi, allegations and targets". Business Standard. 6 May 2013. Retrieved 13 December 2013.
  13. ^ "Sting operation 'exposes' three banks". The Hindu. 15 March 2013. Retrieved 13 December 2013.
  14. ^ a b "Sting Operation reveals money laundering by top Banks". The Times Of India. 15 March 2013. Retrieved 22 April 2018.
  15. ^ a b "Sting operation 'exposes' three banks". The Hindu. 15 March 2013. Retrieved 22 April 2018.
  16. ^ "How Cobrapost carried out its money laundering sting". First Post. 20 December 2014. Retrieved 22 April 2018.
  17. ^ "Cobrapost's sting on banks, insurance: All you need to know". First Post. 20 December 2014. Retrieved 22 April 2018.
  18. ^ "Andhra Pradesh minister's name in money laundering scam, opposition seeks action". The Economic Times. 7 May 2013. Retrieved 22 April 2018.
  19. ^ "HDFC Bank appoints Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu India to probe money laundering allegations". The Economic Times. 23 March 2013. Retrieved 22 April 2018.
  20. ^ RBI de-stings Cobrapost, says no case of money laundering against ICICI bank, HDFC Bank and Axis Bank, Press Trust of India (March 21 2013)
  21. ^ "Cobrapost slams RBI clean chit to money laundering in banks". First Post. 20 December 2014. Retrieved 22 April 2018.
  22. ^ "Operation Red Spider 2: Modus operandi, allegations and targets". Business Standard. 6 May 2013. Retrieved 22 April 2018.
  23. ^ a b "Cobrapost expose: Reserve Bank slaps fine on three banks". The Hindu. 10 June 2013. Retrieved 22 April 2018.
  24. ^ RBI fines 22 banks for violating KYC, anti-money laundering norms, The Hindu (July 15 2013)
  25. ^ "Top Narendra Modi aide put woman under police watch for 'sahib': Websites". Times of India. 16 November 2013. Retrieved 14 December 2013.
  26. ^ a b "After Congress alleges he is 'stalking sahebzada', Narendra Modi retaliates". NDTV. 18 November 2013. Retrieved 14 December 2013.
  27. ^ "Snoopgate: 'Thankful' for Surveillance, Woman Tells Supreme Court". NDTV.com. Retrieved 30 December 2016.
  28. ^ a b "Social media platforms being misused to help politicians, claims Cobrapost". The Hindu. 30 November 2013. Retrieved 14 December 2013.
  29. ^ "Cobrapost's Operation Blue Virus: Is Narendra Modi's popularity on social media real?". Deccan Chronicle. 29 November 2013. Retrieved 14 December 2013.
  30. ^ a b c Cobrapost stings Narendra Modi again, alleges Facebook, YouTube, Twitter 'misuse', Financial Express (December 4 2013)
  31. ^ "Cong, BJP, BSP, JDU, AIADMK MPs willing to lobby for fake oil major for money: Sting op". Times of India. 12 December 2013. Retrieved 13 December 2013.
  32. ^ "Cobrapost exposes 11 MPs willing to lobby for oil company for money". India Today. 12 December 2013. Retrieved 13 December 2013.
  33. ^ "Babri demolition planned; Advani, P V Narasimha Rao knew of plot: Cobrapost sting". The Times of India. 4 April 2014. Retrieved 4 April 2014.
  34. ^ "Cobrapost says paid news widespread". The Hindu. 26 March 2018. Retrieved 24 April 2018.
  35. ^ a b "The ugly phenomenon of paid news". The Tribune. 30 May 2018. Retrieved 30 May 2018.
  36. ^ "Cobrapost Alleges Paid News Agenda By Media, India TV denies Claim". The Quint. 27 March 2018. Retrieved 24 April 2018.
  37. ^ "Large Media Houses Accused of Striking Deals for Paid News to Promote Hindutva Agenda". The Wire. 27 March 2018. Retrieved 24 April 2018.
  38. ^ "Watch: Cobrapost cash for content sting targets prominent media houses". National Herald. 26 March 2018. Retrieved 24 April 2018.
  39. ^ a b c d e f g Cobrapost Sting: Big Media Houses Say Yes to Hindutva, Black Money, Paid News, The Wire (May 26 2018)
  40. ^ "Cobrapost sting Operation 136 shows some media houses ready to polarize voters for money". Nagpur Today. 27 March 2018. Retrieved 24 April 2018.
  41. ^ "The story barely reported by Indian media". BBC. 28 May 2018. Retrieved 30 May 2018.
  42. ^ a b c d Cobrapost: Sting claims media houses open to ‘paid Hindutva content’, firms call it misleading, Krishn Kaushik, The Indian Express (May 27 2018)
  43. ^ "Cobrapost Sting: The Two West Bengal Newspapers That Refused to Sell out". The Wire. 26 May 2018. Retrieved 31 May 2018.
  44. ^ a b As Zee Threatens Defamation on Sting, Cobrapost Sees Attack on Media Freedom, The Wire (June 6 2018)
  45. ^ DHFL diverted Rs 31,000-crore loans to promoter firms, says Cobrapost, Somesh Jha, Business Standard (January 30 2019)
  46. ^ DHFL surges 20% after independent CA report on Cobrapost allegations, Business Standard (March 6 2019)

External linksEdit