Devas scam fugitive Ramachandran Viswanathan behind WSJ ad calling for US sanctions against India

New Delhi: The powerful anti-India network seems to have co-opted money laundering accused and fugitive economic offender former CEO of Devas, Ramachandran Viswanathan.

This US citizen of Indian origin is leading a smear campaign against the Modi government, calling for sanctions against Nirmala Sitharaman and 10 others, including Supreme Court justices and top enforcement agency officials, under America’s Magnitsky Act.

A huge controversy was sparked with an October 13 full-page advertisement in the Wall Street Journal, alleging that Indian Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and 10 others “decimated the rule of law by weaponising the institutions of the state to settle scores with political and business rivals, making India unsafe for investors.”

The ad that carries the name of ‘Frontiers of Freedom’ as the sponsor is headed by one George Landrith. Landrith’s Twitter timeline is a litany of unfounded allegations against India and the Modi government, and echoes the petition by Devas’s Viswanathan, which in August this year called for sanctions against the same 11 people under the Magnitsky Act.

It cannot be a sheer coincidence

The ad says that a demand has been made on the US government to “impose economic and visa sanctions against them under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act”.

“Under (PM) 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 the next,” the deceptive advertisement titled ‘Wanted Modi’s Magnitsky 11’ read.

Names in WSJ’s mala fide ad: Tirade against Govt, insult to judiciary

“This is not a campaign against Modi government. It is a campaign against the judiciary too… India’s Supreme Court also ruled that Devas was involved in corruption. It is a campaign against India’s sovereignty too,” a government source said.

Those named in the ad are Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, Chairman of Antrix Corp Ltd Rakesh Sasibhushan, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, Supreme Court judges Hemant Gupta and V Ramasubramanian.

The ad also named Special PC Act Judge Chandra Shekhar, Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) CBI Ashish Pareek, Enforcement Directorate’s Sanjay Kumar Mishra, ED Assistant Director R Rajesh, Additional Solicitor General N Venkataraman and ED Deputy Director A Sadiq Mohamed.

‘Frontiers of Freedom’ starts anti-India rant when FM Sitharaman is in US

Notably, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman is in Washington DC to attend the annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. She will be there in the US till October 16.

The anti-India rant appears to be planned by the ‘Frontiers of Freedom’ that coincides with Sitharaman’s visit. President of Frontiers of Freedom George Landrith has used the same list as the former Devas CEO submitted to US authorities under same Magnitsky Act and wrote, “Nirmala Sitharaman’s actions that have decimated the rule of law & investment climate in India.”

He further claimed that the advertisement sends a clear message to potential investors in India, “India is a dangerous place to invest!”

“Over the next several days, finance ministers from all over the world will come together for the IMF and World Bank meeting and they will have a hard time looking past abuses committed by India against American and Indian citizens,” Landrith alleged.

In a post, he even asked for Sitharaman’s response against the ad and said, “Should you or any other member of the Narendra Modi regime wish to discuss how the decline in role of law and gross abuses of human rights affect India’s investment climate.”

Tagging BJP-baiter Rana Ayyub

In one of his tweets, Landrith tagged Rana Ayyub who is herself under ED scanner under PMLA ACT for fraud.

In a tweet in which he tagged Ayyub, Landrith said, “The bottom line is this: If @NSitharaman, @BJP4India & @NarendraModi really believe that foreign investors will continue to ignore the abuse and harassment committed by the Indian government, they are mistaken.”

Fugitive economic offender, CEO of Devas, behind the campaign

The WSJ ad, the names therein, the demands mentioned, all coincide with Devas’ former CEO Ramachandran Viswanathan’s plaint from August. Viswanathan is the subject of a money laundering investigation in India.

Viswanathan, a US citizen of the Indian origin, has been dubbed as ‘fugitive economic offender’ by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and has been at loggerheads with the Indian government since. Now, he is pleading before the US government to impose visa and economic sanctions against 11 Indians he named in the advertisement with no proof.

Charges against Ramachandran Viswanathan

Back in 2004, during the UPA regime, Viswanathan co-founded a company named ‘Devas Multimedia Private Limited’ in Bengaluru to provide satellite-based multimedia services.

After a year, Devas inked a deal with the Antrix Corporation and as per the agreement Antrix was to build two satellites – GSAT 6 and 6A, while Devas was to use the S-band transponders of the communication satellites to provide multimedia services to Indian mobile subscribers.

As per reports, the deal was backed by multiple investors including Germany’s Deutsche Telekom (DT). Later, the Antrix-Devas deal went under scrutiny over allegations of irregularities and corruption.

It was then alleged that Devas had insider knowledge about the commercialisation of the S-band spectrum and that it was obtained by Bengaluru-based startup at an extremely cheap rate.

With the 2G scam surfacing, the Congress-led UPA government in 2011 terminated the deal. After which Viswanathan was sanctioned and since then he has an axe to grind with India.

The Enforcement Directorate had moved a Bengaluru court in June this year to declare Viswanathan a “fugitive economic offender” in connection with the failed 2005 satellite deal with Antrix Corp. The agency had filed the money laundering case in 2015 to probe the alleged Rs 578 crore “wrongful” gain to private multi-media company Devas by Antrix, the commercial arm of ISRO.

The CBI had also registered an FIR against Executive Director of Antrix, KR Sridhara Murthi, MG Chandrasekhar and Vishwanathan of Forge Advisors, Devas Multimedia Private Ltd and unnamed officials of Antrix, ISRO and Department of Space.

Anti-India brigade echoes Viswanathan’s words

The anti-India brigade has repeated the same allegations and used the same words as Viswanathan and Landrith in the WSJ ad. Back in 2021, when farmers were protesting against the three farm laws, anti-Hindutva Twitter handle of Tunku Varadarajan had led a campaign against the Modi-government.

He seems to be exactly repeating Landrith and Viswanathan.

What is Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act

The Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act empowers the US government to sanction foreign government officials and freeze their assets. It authorises the President to deny entry into the United States, revoke any already-issued visa and block property under US jurisdiction of, and prohibit US persons from entering into transactions with any foreign person (individual or entity) for “human rights violations”.

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