New Delhi | 3rd Jan 2015
Officials regard reports of Pakistan-based ARY (Abdul Rehman Yakub) television channel being associated with a function connected with the promotion of the film PK in Dubai as "unfortunate", because of that company's perceived links with terror groups as well as with the state agency in Pakistan, which is the primary sponsor of such groups on the sub-continent, the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI). Its founder A.R. Yakub was an associate of Iqbal Mirchi, who was wanted for the 1993 Mumbai blasts and was placed in the Specially Designated Terrorist list by the UN, the UK and the US despite his linkages with the Pakistan establishment. The channel sought entry into India in 2007 through an attempted partnership with an Indian company, which ran a Punjabi channel as well as a Gujarati channel. Their plan was to set up an "ARY Just for India" channel. However, intelligence inputs from R&AW about some of the promoters of this channel led to permission being refused. However, officials say that entry into the Indian market continues to be a high priority for the channel, and that it is actively searching for partners which would enable this.
Entry into the film industry would be a plus for a Pakistan-based company eager to expand the reach of its patrons into locations in India. However, as yet, no concrete evidence has emerged of a business link between the producers of PK and ARY, barring a function in Dubai reportedly attended by both sides. A BJP leader, Subramanian Swamy, has called for an investigation into the funding of the film, which hopefully will reveal more details than what is presently available. An official claimed that the channel "appears to have used the tax haven route to make investments in India", principally in Hyderabad and Mumbai.
ARY's affiliate in the UK, ARY Digital UK, found itself under investigation by authorities in London during 2004-05 on suspicion of being associated with hawala channels. Incidentally, the UK was the favoured domicile of A.R. Yakub, and it was in that country that he passed away last year. He became a billionaire through gold trading in Dubai It is not a secret that huge profits were made in that trade through smuggling of the precious metal into India during the period when there were severe curbs on legal private import of gold into India. Yakub was close to the Bhutto family and is suspected of having been a front for some of the money kept abroad of that super-rich political dynasty. He was also known to Mullah Omar, and is known by intelligence agencies in India of having assisted the Taliban, presumably on the request of the ISI. More ominously, the ARY Group was alleged by agencies in India of having provided funding to ULFA in Assam to enable the group to secure sophisticated weapons through Bangladesh, a country where ARY has extensive contacts, especially within the groups close to former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, a known backer of Pakistan against India, but who is also a favourite of Washington. An arms consignment designated for ULFA was seized from two vessels at Chittagong port in 2004 after an alert from Delhi, but others are known to have got away. Interestingly, A.R. Yakub was close to Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan, the "father" of the Pakistan nuclear bomb and has been accused by agencies in the US and India of having been a front for the assets of the nuclear scientist, who set up a merchandise depot for sensitive nuclear technology before it was shut down because of US pressure.
ARY Digital and ARY Aurum Plus are some of the other businesses of the group. Its bullion business suffered a setback in 2005 when the London Bullion Market Association cancelled its licence after an investigation into a UAE-based affiliate. The investigation focused on allegations of money laundering, narco trafficking and terror financing, although details have not been released. Intelligence agencies in India warn that the group has extensive ties to the ISI. A senior official claimed that the group has "often facilitated the ISI in its global operations". A colleague pointed out that Yakub "was (alleged to have been) the intermediary between the Taliban in Afghanistan and tribal groups in Pakistan, theologically and operationally allied to that militia". Yakub was close to Pervez Musharraf. In 2002, former PM Benazir Bhutto was convicted on corruption charges for making ARY Gold the monopoly importer of the precious metal into Pakistan, from which country a significant chunk gets smuggled into India via the porous coasts of the two countries.
In the UK, group affiliates have been accused of assisting Taliban leaders to convert their cash hoards into gold, thereby converting illegal cash (often the proceeds of narcotics or terror operations) into a commodity freely traded in legal exchanges worldwide. Interestingly, Yakub had visited India in 2008, holding discussions with two Mumbai-based jewellers.
Should Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and Home Minister Rajnath Singh accept Swamy's suggestion that a probe be launched into the funding of PK, hopefully such an investigation will also zero in on ARY, which has for years been active in India through intermediaries and cutouts, and which has extensive links that are problematic from a security standpoint. What would be interesting to find out is exactly who in the Indian establishment lobbied for ARY media entities to set up shop in India, before such moves were scuttled by adverse intelligence on the group. It needs to be reiterated that thus far, there has been no substantive evidence produced of any formal linkage between the producers of PK and ARY, and that the truth can emerge only after the suggested probe has been completed, if it is begun.
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