Trinamool Congress leader and RTI activist Saket Gokhale used a significant portion of more than Rs 1 crore he collected through crowdfunding for “wining and dining”, intra-day trading in the stock market, and for treatment of family members, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) told a special court in Ahmedabad on Wednesday.
The ED also claimed that Gokhale has told them that he received Rs 23.5 lakh from the Congress.
According to the agency, Gokhale said that the money was deposited in his account by one Shankar Swai on behalf of Congress for “social media work and other consulting”. The ED, however, said the money was deposited in Gokhale’s account in November 2021, while he had joined TMC in August that year.
Gokhale’s lawyer Tapan Jain said he would be able to comment only after going through the ED documents presented before court. On Wednesday, the ED was granted six-day custody of Gokhale in connection with a money laundering case it is probing against the activist.
According to ED’s remand application, between 2019 and 2021, Gokhale ran three crowdfunding campaigns — “FightWithRTI”, “SaketVersusModi” and “JusticeForSuhasGokhale” — through online platform ourdemocracy.in to allegedly fund his public interest activities. These generated funds of over Rs 80 lakh, and he received cash deposit of Rs 23.54 lakh in his account, according to ED.
Till date, ED told the court, Gokhale has filed 400 RTI applications, which cost him only Rs 4,000. Some of the funds collected were also used for drafting a PIL against Prime Minister Narendra Modi, ED said.
According to the remand application, Gokhale used Rs 30 lakh of these funds to pay his credit card bills, which included significant expenses on “purchase of liquor…wining and dining and other personal expenses”.
A large share of the funds, with transactions close to Rs 2 crore, were also invested in the stock market for intra-day trading, ED stated. Gokhale has told ED in his statement that he lost Rs 30 lakh in this, the application stated.
According to ED, Gokhale made payments to a deaddiction centre in Nashik, where his uncle allegedly received treatment. He also collected Rs 6 lakh under the “JusticeForSuhas” campaign for his father’s treatment, but his father has told ED that he received no money from Saket, ED has told the court. In his statement to the agency, the TMC leader has said that he did not remember who he paid the money to.
According to ED, Gokhale has maintained innocence and claimed that he had made it clear that his crowdfunding campaigns were not just for his activities but that the money would also go towards his sustenance, as he did not have any source of income.
But, ED claimed, the platform manager of ourdemocracy.in told the agency that Gokhale never mentioned that these funds were going to be used for sustenance or towards personal expenses.
While Gokhale claimed that his wining and dining expenses were not funded by crowdfunding money, ED has argued that the activist has himself claimed that he had no other source of income, the remand note claimed.
On deposit of Rs 23.54 lakh cash in his account, ED claimed Gokhale failed to produce any documentary evidence of the money having been received from the Congress, as he claimed that his agreement to provide social media services to the party were “verbal”.
According to the remand application, Gokhale also claimed to have spent money on freelancers to help him in his work, but ED said he failed to name even one freelancer he had hired, and his bank accounts did not reflect any payments to that effect.
“Saket Gokhale has raised above-mentioned funds from the public for social causes but instead utilised (them) for personal use. By doing so, he has breached trust of the public who donated.… From investigations…it appears he is the pivot in acquiring and possession of proceeds of crime,” the ED maintained.