IT took our phones to clone and recover data: Oxfam India, IPSMF

Two days after the Income Tax Department carried out ‘inquiries’ at its offices, global non-profit organization Oxfam India and the Independent And Public-Spirited Media Foundation (IPSMF) which is funding a series of digital media entities said IT staff confiscated their team members’ phones for cloning to recover data.

In a statement on Friday, Oxfam India said: “Income Tax (IT) Department officials conducted an income tax ‘investigation’ at Oxfam India office in Delhi from 7 September 2022 at noon until the early hours of September 9. During more than 35 hours of uninterrupted investigation, Oxfam India team members were not allowed to leave the scene; Internet was cut off and all cell phones were confiscated.

“The income tax investigation team took away hundreds of pages of data relating to Oxfam India’s finances and programs. They also took all the data by cloning Oxfam India’s server and private mobile phones of the management team and the head of finance,” he said.

“While the investigation team was polite and professional, the investigation process with such sweeping powers and such a wide scope disappointed Oxfam India, a law-abiding and community-focused organization,” said he said, stating that Oxfam India complied with all local laws, including the Income Tax Act and the Foreign Contributions (Regulation) Act (FCRA).

The IPSMF said it received “no foreign funds at any time”.

In a statement, TN Ninan, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of IPSMF, said: “A team of income tax officials came for an ‘investigation’ at the Foundation’s Bengaluru office on Wednesday 7 September. They stayed until 4:30 a.m. this morning, going through the Foundation’s papers and archives and asking questions. Foundation staff were cooperative and answered all questions put to them on a wide range of The officials took statements from three senior executives.

“All laptops and mobile phones were taken for data cloning and returned last night. All staff other than CEO Sunil Rajshekhar were allowed to go home at various stages in the evening/night of September 7, and were asked to return the following morning for further questioning. The CEO slept in the office for a few hours on the night of September 7-8. The Board commends the staff for their good humor and his courage throughout the protracted process IT officials were courteous in their investigative work,” he said.

“The Foundation believes that its affairs are entirely in order. Some media reports of the computer investigation linked it to foreign funding and political party funding. We would like to clarify that the Foundation has not received any foreign funding at any time and has only funded media entities. The Foundation believes in its mission to support independent and public-spirited media, and intends to continue its work,” Ninan said.

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The think tank Center for Policy Research (CPR), also subjected to a computer “investigation” on Wednesday, also published a press release on Friday. “We hold ourselves to the highest standards of compliance and are confident that we have done nothing wrong. We are committed to working with authorities to answer any questions they may have,” the president said and Director General of the CPR, Yamini Aiyar.

The statement said that as one of the 24 research institutes in the Indian Council of Social Science Research network, “CPR has all required approvals and sanctions, and is authorized by the government as a beneficiary in under the Foreign Contributions (Regulation) Act”.

“We have given the department full cooperation during the investigation, and we will continue to do so in the future,” Aiyar said.

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