On Monday, 11 February, two witnesses recorded their statements in Delhi’s Patiala House Court in support of a defamation plea by NSA Ajit Doval’s son Vivek Doval against The Caravan magazine for an alleged defamatory article and senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh for using that content in a press conference, reported PTI.
The two witnesses were Doval’s friends Nikhil Kapur and business partner Amit Sharma.
Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Samar Vishal fixed 22 February for the pre-summoning argument, after completing hearing the statements from Sharma and Kapur.
Doval had filed a complaint of criminal defamation soon after the publication of the article, and recorded his own statement on 30 January.
Doval's statement before the court elaborated on his written complaint, explaining how he came to set up his Cayman Islands-based hedge fund (GNY Asia Fund), how the fund operated, and how it had nothing to do with his father, NSA Ajit Doval, or his elder brother Shaurya Doval.
Doval also explained how (according to him) the article 'The D Companies', written by Kaushal Shroff and published in The Caravan on 16 January, had defamed him and done serious damage to his reputation and the reputation of his business. He said, this was exacerbated by the press conference called by Jairam Ramesh the next day where he repeated several allegations, and made comments about Vivek and his family.
According to Doval, "random facts, misfacts, lies, misleading inferences have all been pieced together in a motivated manner" in the article. He says he has faced questions from his father and several colleagues and acquaintances because of it, and there were even discussions at GNY over whether he should continue as fund manager.
The court posted the matter for 11 February when the statement of other witnesses will be recorded.
Besides Vivek Doval, there are two other witnesses – his friend Nikhil Kapoor and business partner Amit Sharma – who will record their statements in support of the criminal defamation complaint.
What Was The Caravan’s Article About?
The Caravan in its 16 January online write-up titled 'The D Companies' had said that Vivek Doval, "runs a hedge fund in the Cayman Islands" which is "an established tax haven" and was "registered merely 13 days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government demonetised all existing Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 currency notes, in 2016".
What Did The Complaint Say?
According to the complaint, Ramesh had held a press conference on 17 January reiterating the "baseless and unfounded facts" as narrated in the article.
He had alleged that the contents of the article present "no illegality" on his part, but the entire narration has been presented in a manner, which suggests "wrongdoings" to the readers.
"The very arrangement of the paragraphs and the interspersion of random paragraphs, has been done with the very purpose of confusing the reader and leaving him with the belief that there is a larger conspiracy at play, being spearheaded by the complainant," the complaint said.
It also said that the social media tweets put out by the magazine's handle gave snippets from the article, which makes it clear that it is merely a targeted attempt to malign and tarnish the reputation of Vivek Doval and his family, in order to gain "political credit in light of the upcoming general elections".
“The title of the article itself is scandalous to say the least... creating a prejudice in the minds of the readers against the complainant and his family,” the complaint said.
It further said that a questionnaire was sent to Vivek Doval and his elder brother on a social networking site seeking details while vaguely mentioning that it is in regard to a story being done by the magazine.
The complainant alleged there was no phone call seeking any clarification from him or his elder brother, which makes it clear that the questionnaire was a "mere eyewash done to complete the formality" as a defence of any criminal action as the accused had knowledge that the "imputations are per se defamatory and false".
‘Ramesh Was Geared to Launch Attack’
With regard to Ramesh, the complaint said that the press conference addressed by him went "beyond the mere narration in the article" and that he was already geared and armed to launch an attack, "merely waiting for the publication of the article", which could then provide a "smokescreen to the otherwise targeted and deliberate attack on the reputation of the complainant and his family".
It said the article has been used as a political tool to “foster in unscrupulous hands” to “seek vendetta and wreak vengeance”.
The complaint also said that the author of the article has claimed to have accessed numerous documents and there are "crucial pieces of information that is conveniently claimed to not be accessible to the author".
"The true facts of the matter, that is the history and background of the complainant and his business ventures, as have been sufficiently detailed, amply evidence that the author has deliberately and selectively left out or claimed certain vital pieces of information as inaccessible, which would otherwise bring to the fore the legality and propriety of the business venture of the complainant," said the complaint.
It also said that the very act of setting up and launching of a hedge fund, whether in the Cayman Islands or any other place in the world, is not by itself an illegal and unlawful act.
"However, the same, even without explicitly so stating, has been portrayed in a manner that leads to the very setting up and launching of the hedge fund being perceived as an unlawful act," it said.
The complaint alleged that "a web of conjectures and surmises has been devised by selective and careful nitpicking of random facts in respect of the complainant, his brother and his father – the facts being completely unrelated to one another – and presenting them in a manner that hints at deep-rooted conspiracies between the family members, in carrying out laundering of black money, by rerouting of funds into India through the Cayman Islands, in the post-demonetisation era.”
(With inputs from Bar & Bench, PTI)
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