|Based in||New Delhi|
Undercover investigative journalism
In 2005, along with Aaj Tak, Cobrapost conducted a sting operation named Operation Duryodhana that exposed eleven members (MPs) accepting money for tabling their questions in the Parliament of India. This investigation led to expulsion of eleven MPs from the Parliament, the largest expulsion of MPs in the country's history.
Operation Red Spider
In March 2013, its Operation Red Spider alleged that some banks in India were involved in money laundering, using false accounts to convert black money into white. In the undercover operation, Cobrapost disclosed several secret tapes with Senior management of several Bank and Insurance firms, alleging how these institutions were laundering money akin to a planned racket. The Operation which has several parts, was carried out by an associate editor, assuming an alias of Syed Masoor Hasan. Posing as a dirty political figure, the reporter made several cold calls to Banks and Insurance firms, stating plainly how his objective was to launder his Black money into White. According to the press release, the Cobrapost reporter was never disappointed as "almost every banker and insurer was willing to help launder huge amounts of unaccounted cash." The expose alleged how Banks employ numerous benefits, including several lockers and Note counting machines. Myriad methods involving use of forged Pan Cards and Multiple Accounts were employed to launder money. Bahal added how "They advice investors to maintain fictitious accounts for seven years saying that all details vanish after this period."
The undercover operation mentioned Andhra Politician Sailijanath Saake in the expose and disclosed how various executives personally collect unaccounted money, aiding customers launder their black money. The portal also emphasised how the scale of the operation was not limited to low level, front office staff, as portrayed in the inquiries conducted by banks. "Bank officials holding the ranks of divisional managers, territory managers, assistant general manager and Vice Presidents say they are all party to such money laundering transaction" said Aniruddha Bahal. Public Banking institutions named in the undercover operation include SBI, 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. The expose also unveiled the involvement of various Private Bankers including Dhanlaxmi Bank, Federal Bank, DCB Bank, HDFC Bank, ICICI Bank and Axis Bank among others.
The Deputy governor of RBI, Chakrabarty, in a statement on 21 March 2014, exclaimed how there was no scam as claimed by the Cobrapost expose. "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)" The timing of his statement, extending a clean chit to Banks amidst allegations of laundering has raised concerns as it was released even before the Central Bank and Income Tax Department could release their own investigations. A report in the Economic times disclosed how the then opposition party BJP, demanded the Manmohan Singh government to look into the issue, while Communist leader Sitaram Yechury suggested cancelling Bank licences.
Secretary of Financial Services, Rajiv Takru released a statement outlining how several Indian government agencies and regulators operated together to examine the grave allegations. On 14 March 2013 Reserve Bank of India launched an investigation, examining a potential breach of KYC (Know Your Customer) and AML (anti-money laundering) measures by ICICI Bank, HDFC Bank and Axis Bank. In the aftermath of the investigation, sanction of Rs 5 crore on Axis Bank, Rs 4.5 crore on HDFC Bank and Rs 1 crore on ICICI Bank was levied by RBI. The RBI released a statement indicating how "The investigation did not reveal any prima facie evidence of money laundering. However, any conclusive inference in this regard can be drawn only by an end-to-end investigation of the transactions by tax and enforcement agencies." On 15 March 2013 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.
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. The Indian National Congress alleged that the saheb was Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Chief minister of Gujarat.
The Snoopgate controversy was an Indian political scandal concerning the illegal surveillance of a young woman using various state police and intelligence institutions in Gujarat. The details of the scandal came to light in November 2013, when Cobrapost along with the website Gulail released tapes titled The Stalkers. 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.
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.
Operation Blue Virus
In Operation Blue Virus, Cobrapost accused some IT companies of using fake identities on social media to help politicians, especially BJP members, to improve their popularity. 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.
Operation Falcon Claw
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, and also that MPs received money ranging from ₹50,000 (US$700) to ₹5,000,000 (US$70,000) for issuing recommendation letters.
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.
Operation 136 : Part 1
This was an undercover investigative operation by Cobrapost. On March 26, 2018, the Undercover expose Titled 'Operation 136' alleged how many Indian media houses were willing to promote Hindutva, lead communal polarisation for electoral gains, defame political rivals and execute nefarious political campaigns for money. The expose claims to have established, (with alleged clinching evidence) for the first time in the history of Independent India, as to how Indian media houses reportedly influence the country's electoral process through undesirable means. Undercover reporter Pushp Sharma, assuming an alias, interacted with owners and personnel of various media houses, promising doles ranging from 6 Crores to 50 Crores, in exchange for extending their platform to advance his own media campaign. The reporter explicitly communicated detailed steps of how he simply wanted to promote Hindutva in the initial phase, then gradually target viewers through communal content by advancing speeches of Hindutva Hardliners such as Uma Bharti, Mohan Bhagwat, and others. The final step would be orchestrated as elections approach, which would sully opposition leaders, namely Rahul Gandhi, Akhilesh Yadav, and Mayawati by caricaturing them using undignified language like Pappu, Babua, and Bua.
- Functionaries of some media houses named in the undercover operation openly exhibited their sympathy towards the right wing
- Others asked for an advance renumeration in hard cash (a blatant euphemism for black money).
- Majority of media functionaries had no qualms to accept half their remuneration in cash.
- Some functionaries reportedly added how their payment had to be made in advance, while other receipts could falsely indicate how the rest of their payments were donations.
- One media manager apparently suggested how "There are smart ways of doing it and there are foolish ways of doing it."
In course of the investigation, Cobrapost pointed out how functionaries or in some cases owners, openly aired their close ties with the RSS or pro Hindutva elements. Not only did several media houses agree to plant stories favouring the party in power, many agreed to specifically develop and advance advertorials to this effect. Almost all accepted to run such a campaign on their print, electronic or digital, e-news portal, e-paper and social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. It is also alleged how some media houses offered to undertake complete media management, to plant stories supporting the party in power, in different organisations as well, with the tacit support of other journalists. According to the press release of Cobrapost, some even agreed to display the judiciary in an objectionable light as well as paint innocent, protesting farmers as maoists. As unearthed by the undercover tapes reported by the portal, the said functionaries were inclined to 'manipulate public perception through a sustained campaign.' "Shockingly, almost all media houses showed their eagerness to undertake such a diabolical media campaign," claimed Cobrapost. The arrangement also aimed to target senior BJP leaders like Arun Jaitley and Maneka Gandhi, her son Varun Gandhi, BJP allies like Anupriya Patel, Om Prakash Rajbhar and Upendra Kushwaha. Other targets included Prashant Bhushan, Dushyant Dave, Kamini Jaiswal and Indira Jaisingh. Various media houses purportedly assented to slander profiles of various opposition leaders like Congress President, Rahul Gandhi, West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee and leaders from the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party. Asked whether 'any media houses had baulked at diabolical proposal' or disagreed with it, Bahal said, "We were very keen to have some examples of principled media houses, of owners and executives who flatly refuse our proposition. Sadly, we got none. Every one of the channels and newspapers we approached showed a willingness to enter into a deal despite fully realising the divisive agenda involved." Apparently none of the business representatives of the named media houses were against their platform being employed to influence elections, target the electorate or tarnishing opposition leaders.
The First part of Operation 136 names more than two dozen media houses, including India TV, Dainik Jagran, Hindi Khabar, SAB TV, DNA (Daily News and Analysis), Amar Ujala, UNI, 9X Tashan, Samachar Plus, HNN 24*7, Punjab Kesari, Swatantra Bharat, ScoopWhoop, Rediff.com, IndiaWatch, Aj and Sadhna Prime News. With the exception of The Hindu and The Indian Express, the expose found few takers in mainstream media, which largely ignored the sting. A report by National Herald claimed how some media houses were hurriedly disconnecting their mikes and leaving the press conference, Republic TV and Rajya Sabha TV among them. The expose has been criticised by some as constituting "entrapment". The credibility of the investigation has been questioned by the Chief Editor of Dainik Jagran, Sanjay Gupta, who denied the allegations as well as the authenticity of the video recordings. Sudipto Chowdhery, President of Sales, India TV emphatically labeled the recordings as "doctored" and "edited" and said "none" of the "proposals discussed or put forward" by the undercover reporter were accepted, and "were in fact entirely turned down by the editorial and legal teams of India TV." He categorically stated how nothing put forth by the reporter was aired on India TV. Further, he outlined how Cobrapost had "concealed important aspects of the discussion only to sensationalise the story and for their self-serving interests."
Operation 136 : Part II
The second part of the undercover expose was released by Cobrapost on 25 May 2018. It claimed to have shown owners as well as senior personnel of media houses consenting to engage in campaigns which could induce communal discord and sway the electoral mandate. The undercover reporter assumed an alias of Acharya Atal, wherein he promised doles ranging up to 500 crores. The media houses named in the undercover investigation include Times of India, India Today, Hindustan Times, Zee News, Network 18, Star India, Paytm, Bharat Samachar, ABP News, Dainik Jagaran, Radio One, Red FM, Lokmat, ABN Andhra Jyothy, TV5, Dinamalar, Big FM, K News, India Voice, The New Indian Express, MVTV and Open magazine. The portal disclosed how Bartaman Patrika and Daikik Sambad declined to distribute content with religious undercurrent.
It is alleged by Cobrapost how various media houses agreed to foster Hindutva, impart questionable content with potential to polarise voters, debase political critics by advancing disparaging information as well as receive unaccounted money. The portal alleges how some media houses devised ways to route money through third-party agencies, proposing ‘hawala routes such as Angadiyas.’ According to the portal some media houses assented to implant reports benefiting the government, being prepared to deploy investigative outfits to smear opposition leaders as well as create adverts supporting their nefarious designs. According to the conversations deciphered from the undercover tapes, news professionals consent to air adverts as well as news reports. CEO of Zee Media, Regional News Channels Purushottam Vaishnav, supposedly concedes to air undercover investigations at the insistence of Acharya Atal.
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