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In New Delhi, George Soros is old, dangerous and on a watchlist — at UN, he isn’t a problem

In Sydney in February, External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar, when asked about George Soros’s criticism of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the government, called him “old, rich, opinionated and dangerous.” A man “sitting in New York,” investing in “shaping narratives” about a government he didn’t like. That sharp rebuff went viral, like quite a few of Jaishankar’s recent retorts.

Here’s a paradox.

India is among the top contributors to the UN Democracy Fund (UNDEF) whose mission is to promote democracy across the world through local and international NGOs and civil society organisations (CSOs) — many of these are linked to Soros’s philanthropic empire, an investigation by The Indian Express has revealed.

Explained | UN fund launched in 2005 on sidelines of India-US N-deal

Since UNDEF’s inception in 2005, India has contributed over $32 million to it and remains its fourth largest contributor.

Last year, when it contributed $150,000 to the fund – the 4th highest among 45 donors, after US, Sweden and Germany — India’s Permanent Mission to the UN proudly announced in a statement: “India acknowledges that sustained support for UNDEF is particularly important in this crucial time for democracy efforts worldwide. India expresses steadfast support for UNDEF as it plays a distinct role in complementing other UN efforts to strengthen democratic governance around the world.”

Of the 276 projects strengthening “democratic governance” that received UNDEF funds since 2015, an investigation by The Indian Express has revealed, as many as 68, nearly one in four, are being executed by CSOs linked to Soros’s Open Society Foundation (OSF) or its offshoots – either as a recipient of its donations or a partner.

Though UNDEF has been disbursing funds to NGOs linked to Soros from its inception, The Indian Express took 2015 as the starting point for its investigation.

This is because it was that year when the Modi government, which took office in 2014, began a crackdown on foreign funding of NGOs introducing new rules under the FCRA law for filing of foreign grants and started a weeding out process.

Ironically, while UNDEF funds organisations worldwide that have links to OSF, in 2016, the Home Ministry put OSF on a watchlist – means that it cannot extend any financial assistance to any organisation or individual in India without prior clearance from the ministry.

The Indian Express sent a query to the Indian Permanent Mission in New York, seeking an explanation for the evident contradiction and was redirected to the MEA spokesperson who was unavailable for comment.

George Soros UN fund launched in 2005 on sidelines of India-US N-deal

The full list of 68 projects with Soros’s OSF, its regional subsidiaries and partners is on indianexpress.com.

Following are the key findings of the investigation and the topmost recipient of UNDEF funds linked to Soros’s OSF each year between 2015 and 2021:

2021: Of 33 projects that got UNDEF funds, 11 went to CSOs linked to OSF. At the top was Lebanese Center for Human Rights. It received a grant of $275,000 for a project titled Safeguarding Human Rights Amid Crisis in Lebanon. The group lists ABAAD as a partner. OSF is a donor to ABAAD.

2020: Of 30 projects that got UNDEF grants, 10 were linked to OSF. Lebanon-based NGO Abaad Resource Centre for Gender Equality received a grant of $495,000 for a project to engage with “Civil Society Organizations and Youths in Gender-Inclusive Citizenship and Leadership”. Abaad receives grants from OSF, too.

2019: Of 32 grantees, 11 were OSF beneficiaries. A regional NGO called Africa Check Foundation got $495,000 for a project to foster “media literacy for evidence-based decision making” in Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa. ACF lists OSF as a partner.

2018: Of 46 UNDEF recipients, 12 have a connection with OSF. The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies that works in the West Asia-North Africa region, received $275,000 for a project to “empower a new generation of human rights advocates.” OSF is a donor to Cairo Institute.

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2017: Of the 48 UNDEF recipients, 15 are linked to OSF. At the top is the Kofi Annan Foundation, which received $ 275,000 for a project to strengthen “Electoral Processes with Integrity in Sub Saharan Africa with a focus on Côte d’Ivoire and Cameroon”. The foundation receives funds from OSF.

2016: Of the 43 UNDEF recipients, six are linked to OSF. The top recipient is Search for Common Ground in Central African Republic which got $242,000 for a project to “promote democracy through the establishment of permanent, participatory, inclusive and collaborative citizen dialogue”. It lists an OSF affiliate as a partner.

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2015: Of the 44 UNDEF recipients, three are linked to OSF. Action Associative in Tunisia got $ 242,000 for a project to build “Public Participation, Trust and Transparency in Local Government” towards particpatory decision-making. This civil society group is a partner of Avocats san Frontieres, which is funded by OSF.

© The Indian Express (P) Ltd

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