Exclusive: Bloomberg charity scrutinized
by India for anti-tobacco funding, lobbying - documents
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[August 29, 2017]
By Aditya Kalra
NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India has been
investigating how Bloomberg Philanthropies, founded by billionaire
Michael Bloomberg, funds local non-profit groups for anti-tobacco
lobbying, government documents show, making it the latest foreign
non-government organization to come under scrutiny.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government has since 2014 tightened
surveillance of non-profit groups, saying they were acting against
India's national interests. Thousands of foreign-funded charities'
licenses have been canceled for misreporting donations.
Critics, however, say the government has used the foreign funding law as
a tool to silence non-profit groups which have raised concerns about the
social costs of India's rapid economic development.
The intelligence wing of India's home ministry last year drafted a note
on Bloomberg Philanthropies, raising concerns that the foundation was
running a campaign to "target" Indian tobacco businesses and
"aggressively" lobby against the sector.
Though the three-page note, reviewed by Reuters, said the Bloomberg
initiative's "claimed intention to free India of tobacco cannot be
faulted" given the known risks from tobacco, it highlighted the sector's
importance, noting it brings in nearly $5 billion in annual revenue for
governments, and provides a livelihood for millions of people.
"Foreign interests making foreign contributions ... for purposes of
lobbying against an established economic activity raises multiple
concerns," the note said, including, it said, an "adverse economic
impact" on 35 million people.
The June 3, 2016 note, marked "SECRET" and circulated to top government
officials, including in Modi's office, has not previously been reported.
The probe continued until at least April this year, another government
Rebecca Carriero, a spokeswoman for Michael Bloomberg and New York-based
Bloomberg Philanthropies, declined to comment as they were unaware of
A home ministry spokesman said "queries which relate to security
agencies cannot be answered." Modi's office did not respond to an email
The ministry's note was one of the factors behind the rejection of a
foreign funding license renewal of at least one Bloomberg-funded India
charity last October, said a senior government official aware of the
Michael Bloomberg, one of the world's richest people and a former New
York City Mayor, has committed nearly $1 billion to support global
tobacco control efforts. One of his focus countries is India, where
tobacco kills 900,000 people a year.
Other than funding Indian NGOs, Bloomberg's charity has in the past
worked on improving road safety and supported federal tobacco-control
efforts. In 2015, Modi called Michael Bloomberg a "friend", and the two
agreed on working together on India's ambitious plan to build so-called
BIGGER WARNINGS, DIFFERENT VIEWS
The home ministry note said the Bloomberg charity successfully lobbied
for the introduction of bigger health warnings on cigarette packs,
"contrary" to the recommendations of a parliamentary panel.
While the panel called for the size of warnings to be more than doubled
to 50 percent of a pack's surface area, the health ministry sought a
higher figure of 85 percent. Despite protests from India's $10 billion
cigarette industry, the Supreme Court last year ordered manufacturers to
follow the more stringent health ministry rules.
[to top of second column]
Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg addresses the audience
next to billionaire Carlos Slim (not pictured) during a forum in
Mexico City, Mexico December 1, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso/File
That, the note said, was the first of the three-phase Bloomberg
campaign targeting India's tobacco industry. It did not explain how
exactly the Bloomberg charity lobbied.
While the note mirrored some of India's tobacco lobby's positions -
such as how anti-smoking policies could adversely impact farmers -
the government official said the investigation was not done at the
behest of the industry.
"Anti-tobacco lobby wants to kill revenue generating activities,"
the official said.
A health ministry official, however, said: "We don't see tobacco as
an economic activity." He added that the health ministry was unaware
of the home ministry's note on Bloomberg Philanthropies.
India has stepped up scrutiny of NGOs registered under the Foreign
Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA).
In 2015, the home ministry put the Ford Foundation on a watch list
and suspended Greenpeace India's FCRA license, drawing criticism
from the United States.
Earlier this year, the government banned foreign funding for the
Public Health Foundation of India, a group backed by the Bill &
Melinda Gates Foundation, saying it used foreign donations to
"lobby" for tobacco-control policy issues, "which is prohibited
In the Bloomberg case, the home ministry note included a chart
showing how funds flowed from Bloomberg Philanthropies to its
partner, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, which was then funding
five local FCRA-registered NGOs. These NGOs, the note said, were
being used by the Bloomberg charity for "anti-tobacco lobbying
The FCRA license of at least one of them - the Institute of Public
Health (IPH) Bengaluru - was not renewed in October, in part due to
the home ministry's note, the government official said.
The IPH said it was told by the home ministry that its license was
not being renewed on the basis of a "field agency report", but no
details were given. It was unaware of the investigation on Bloomberg
In April, the home ministry wrote to the federal health ministry,
citing an "inquiry into foreign funding" for lobbying to change laws
in India. The letter, seen by Reuters, mentioned the Bloomberg
initiative and directed the health ministry to report on
anti-tobacco lobbying by foreign donors in other countries where
tobacco is widely used.
The health ministry has not yet sent that report, another government
official said. The health ministry did not respond to questions.
(Reporting by Aditya Kalra in NEW DELHI, with additional reporting
by Duff Wilson in NEW YORK; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Ian
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