Silicon Valley firms stop suspect terror funds

By Ashish Kumar Sen, The Asian Age, Nov 26, 2002

Washington, Nov. 26: Alarmed by allegations that money contributed by them to a Maryland-based charity might be used to fund violent, sectarian groups in India, some prominent Silicon Valley firms have discontinued donations to the India Development and Relief Fund. On the heels of a recent report detailing the links between IDRF and the Sangh Parivar, a Cisco Systems spokesperson said the firm had terminated all donations to IDRF. Founded in 1978 by Dr Vinod Prakash, a former World Bank employee, IDRF is one of the more active Indian American charities in the US.

The report A Foreign Exchange of Hate co-published by the France-based South Asia Citizens Web and Sabrang Communications, Mumbai, alleges: The IDRFs funds disbursement is the most concrete evidence of it being an essential arm of the Sangh in the US as also its primary work being that of funding religious sectarianism in India. It claims the existence of adequate documentation to show that the charity funds organisations in at least three states in India that are directly involved in largescale violence against Muslim and Christian minorities.

US firms like Cisco Systems, Sun Microsystems, Oracle, Hewlett Packard and AOL Time Warner match employee contributions to US-based non-profit organisations. Annual giving programmes normally take place between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The critical question raised in the report Are the charity dollars provided by US companies, including from some prominent Indian Americans, being used to fund violent, sectarian groups in India?" The 91-page document arrives at a disturbing conclusion: Yes.

According to the report, Cisco Systems donated almost $70,000 to IDRF in just one year. The company's contribution, according to tax records, amounted to as much as five per cent of IDRF's total cash corpus in 1999. If Cisco employee contributions for that year are added up, the total is $133,000 or more than five per cent of IDRF's total cash collections for the same time period.

"Cisco's culture has always been to give back to communities around the globe, including giving relief/aid to victims of disaster such as the hurricanes of North Carolina, the typhoon in Korea, and the earthquake in India," says a Cisco spokesperson. "In this instance, Cisco and other Silicon Valley companies donated to this organisation for such relief work."

Pointing out that Cisco exclusively supports government approved non-profit organisations, the spokesperson added, "At the time that some of our employees initiated matching gifts, IDRF was a US government approved non-profit organisation. Cisco has since terminated all donations to IDRF."

Another prominent Silicon Valley-based hi-tech firm, Sun Microsystems, has also distanced itself from the charity. "Any non-profit, non- proprietary organisation that the Internal Revenue Service has granted a 501(c) 3 tax exempt and public charity status is eligible to receive matching gifts from Sun Microsystems," explains Kristin Huguet, a Sun Microsystems spokesperson. "The India Development and Relief Fund does not appear on the IRS list of agencies known to support terrorist activities," she says, adding, All current donations to the IDRF have been placed on hold pending a directive from the IRS federal government.

Unsuspecting corporations end up forking out large amounts of money as matching funds to groups like IDRF as many of their non-resident Indian employees regularly donate money to this charity.

Volunteers for India Development and Empowerment is one such group of NRI employees. Based in the San Francisco Bay Area and comprising largely of Cisco employees, VIDE gave almost $120,000 to IDRF in 1999. Fifty per cent of this amount was a Cisco match. Speaking on condition of anonymity, a VIDE office-bearer says the group is reviewing its relationship with IDRF and would stand by any decision taken by Cisco.

Between 1993 and 1995 the Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America had signed up with AT&T, wherein a fixed percentage of any subscribers total telephone bill could be directed to a non-profit of his/her choice, provided the non-profit was registered with AT&T under its Association Rewards Programme. Under consistent pressure from people appalled by this misuse of charitable giving, AT&T withdrew all support to the VHP(A).

IDRF has reproduced the same method for fund collection through a credit card issued by MBNA Bank as part of a programme managed by the National Scrip Centre, an organisation founded primarily to simplify fundraising by schools.