Portal behind Kapil Sibal's anti-BJP charges logs into erotic business
In the run up to the Lok Sabha election, it ran a spate of so-called undercover stories slamming India's demonetisation and EVMs. Less than two weeks after the vote-count, the same UK-based news portal slipped into an unusual domain -- an erotic body-massage service.
London's TNN (standing for Tri Colour News Network Ltd) World, whose stories Congress leader Kapil Sibal used on several occasions to target the Modi government ahead of the Lok Sabha election, has gone offline.
An India Today Open Source Investigation reveals that the sole director of the platform, a Romanian national called Dina Biciin, has switched the business model -- from a global news platform earlier to a sensual massage service now.
It's named Eva's Tantric Massage in its new avatar. The service promises "intimate sensual massage promising a prolonged sexual pleasure" across London.
On March 26, Opposition leaders, including former Union ministers Sibal, Ghulam Nabi Azad and Sharad Yadav, Ahmed Patel of the Congress, Hemant Soren of the JMM and Manoj Jha of the RJD, addressed a joint press conference at New Delhi's Constitution Club, showing a purported sting operation carried out by TNN World.
The story alleged that a BJP worker in Gujarat transacted banned notes post-demonetisation for a commission of 40 per cent past the deadline for bank exchange.
Sibal followed it up with another press conference at the Congress headquarters on April 9, showing a series of TNN stories which claimed that the BJP's top leadership ran a money-exchange operation with the help of officials from 26 different departments, including India's external intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW).
TNN World described itself as "an independent, UK-based news publisher" back then. Data available in public domain suggests that Biciin controlled TNN World's parent company.
The authenticity of the reports cited by Sibal was questioned but the Congress leader carried on and held yet another press conference at the party headquarters on April 17 based on TNN World content.
Earlier, the portal had held its first live Facebook broadcast, showing a news conference addressed by a purported hacker in London. The event was widely criticised as the hacker's claims were found unsubstantiated. One of the organisers later disassociated itself from the claims.
An investigation by India Today's Anti Fake News War Room (AFWA), at the time, had found that the viral video to be misleading and the credibility of the TNN World to be doubtful. (You can watch the video at the end of the story)
But the TNN website continued to publish its reports, accusing the Indian government of manipulating EVMs on a mass scale. The portal remained active until June 3, India Today's investigation found. It went offline after that.
Filings made before the United Kingdom's Registrar of Companies reveal that Diana Biciin, who is the only director looking after Tri Colour News Network Ltd has opened another company named Eva's Tantric Massage Ltd in London, the probe shows.
Eva's website states that it offers no health or well-being related services but provides "mutual love with girls from Spain, Brazil, Belarus, Moldova, England, Lithuania and Russia".
According to documents reviewed by India Today, Biciin incorporated the new company on April 29 as its only director. According to UK fillings, she also continues in her role as the sole director of Tri Colour News Network Ltd, TNN's parent company.
A Whois record Lookup search shows Eva's website was registered on April 24. TNN World did not respond to India Today's multiple messages.
Interference by vested interests in political activities, elections and referendums have made headlines internationally before. Foreign groups were accused of influencing US elections and the Brexit referendum in 2016.
Experts suspect internet-driven content and mass disinformation were allegedly used to affect the outcomes. India's election process is the largest and one of most complex electoral systems in the world.
Ahead of the 2019 elections, the Modi government vowed legal action what it alleged was a Congress conspiracy against the BJP.
"We will take action on them legally. We are not going to let this story down," then defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman told a news conference in March.
"This website (TNN World) is registered for one year only. Maybe Congress has planned to close it after elections," she forecast three months ago.
Timeline of TNN World Events
November 11, 2018: Domain TricolourTv.com was registered
November 29, 2018: Tri Colour News Network was incorporated in the UK by Romanian national Diana Irina Biciin
January 31, 2019: TNN.World domain was registered
January 16, 2019: In its first Facebook broadcast, TNN claimed that the 2015 Gurdaspur terror attack was carried out by the Indian government to win Bihar assembly polls
January 21, 2019: TNN Facebook page promotes and live broadcasts a press conference claiming mass manipulation of EVMs in India
March 26, April 9 and April 17: Based on TNN videos, Kapil Sibal addressed a series of press conferences to allege money laundering by the BJP post demonetisation
April 29, 2019: TNN's sole director Diana Biciin opened a massage services company in London
June 2019: TNN World and TricolourTv.com websites went offline