A month after it registered an FIR against the Lawyers Collective, a rights issue NGO run by senior lawyers Indira Jaising and Anand Grover, for alleged violation of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) and offences under sections of the Indian Penal Code and Prevention of Corruption Act, the CBI on Thursday said it had "conducted searches at five locations in Mumbai and Delhi at the premises including office and residence of accused".
A CBI statement claimed "certain incriminating documents have been recovered" during the searches and its investigation is continuing.
There was no immediate response from the Lawyers Collective or Grover on the CBI searches and claims.
Condemning the searches, a group of Opposition MPs, in a letter to the Prime Minister, called the CBI action the "latest in a long line of coercion and intimidation of Jaising and Grover" and "is nothing short of a brute show of intimidation as well as gross abuse of power".
The Opposition MPs who urged the "government and authorities to halt such act of coercion and intimidation" include Congress leaders Anand Sharma and Kapil Sibal, CPI's D Raja and Binoy Viswam, Aam Aadmi Party's Sanjay Singh and Trinamool Congress's Shanta Chhetri and Santanu Sen and Samajwadi Party's Jaya Bachchan.
On June 13, acting on a complaint from the ministry of home affairs (MHA), the CBI registered an FIR in Mumbai, naming Grover, unknown office bearers of Lawyers Collective and unknown private persons and public servants. Suspected offences listed include criminal conspiracy, criminal breach of trust, false statement made in declaration and criminal misconduct.
In 2016, the MHA had cancelled the FCRA licence of Lawyers Collective for alleged violation of FCRA provisions after an inspection of its books of accounts and records. It had pointed out that the NGO "was registered for carrying out 'social' activities" and had "received foreign contribution amounting to Rs 32.39 crore" from 2006-07 to 2014-15, but money was used for "political purposes".
In May this year, the Lawyers Collective was issued notice by the Supreme Court after a petition filed by another organisation called Lawyers Voice sought direction to the Centre to book Jaising, Grover and their NGO for alleged violation of rules related to receipt and use of foreign funds.
In a statement following the registration of the FIR, the Lawyers Collective said it "believes that the FIR has no basis in fact and law.
It is to target the Lawyers Collective and its office bearers, to silence them as they have taken up sensitive cases in the past, and continue to take them up.