‘Modus operandi to extort, threaten’: Multiple charges against Kerala’s Karma News

In three FIRs filed by two companies, the digital outfit has been accused of extortion and blackmailing.

WrittenBy:Binu Karunakaran& Haritha John
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Malayalam digital outfit Karma News – which is known to propagate a curious mix of rightwing Christian and Hindutva propaganda – is facing multiple charges of extortion and blackmail. In at least three police complaints filed in Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram since May 2022, the portal’s Kerala-based chief PR Somdev and Australia-based managing director Vince Mathew, along with its reporters, have been accused of extortion and blackmail. 

The complaints came to light after one of its former employees and co-accused in a case, Easwaran Potti alleged that it was the firm’s modus operandi to extort money from individuals and businesses by threatening to publish incriminating news reports related to them.  

The most recent complaint against the portal was filed by infertility hospital Yana Mother and Child Hospital at Fort police station in Thiruvananthapuram on July 2. In the complaint, the hospital’s general manager Joby PC accused Karma News chief Somdev and its reporter Sijo of demanding Rs 1 crore to avoid publishing reports that would harm the clinic’s reputation. The digital outfit along with a couple – identified as Sujith Krishna and Sithara, who had reportedly sought treatment at the facility and suffered a miscarriage – had allegedly blackmailed the hospital. 

The portal’s chief Somdev, reporter Sijo and the couple have now been booked under IPC sections 511, 384 (extortion), 506 (criminal intimidation) and 34(Acts done by several persons with common intention). The complainant alleged that the portal published a story against the hospital on June 28, with an intention to blackmail its management for money.

“Somdev had earlier approached us, asking for money, threatening to shut down our hospital if we did not agree to pay them,” said the general manager at Yana Mother and Child Hospital. Following the hospital’s complaint, Karma News aired a video apologising to the hospital, acknowledging that the story was false. They also took down the negative story.

“IVF success rates are low everywhere in the country. Patients will have many doubts when treatment fails. In this case they used the story as propaganda,” Joby told the News Minute.

The first complaint against the portal was filed in May 2022 by the chief executive officer of Spices Producer Company Midhun PP at Kochi’s Infopark police station, accusing reporter Easwaran Potti of seeking a payment of Rs 50 lakh from the company to avoid publishing reports against it. 

The FIR named Potti and Karma News MD Vince Mathew. They were booked under IPC sections 384 and 386 (Extortion), IPC 506 (Criminal intimidation) and IPC 34 (criminal act done by several persons with common intention). In March this year, the SPC filed a complaint against Karma News again, accusing them of extortion and blackmailing.

SPC CEO Midhun said Potti first shot a video of their office premises on March 8 last year, without their permission. “I was asked to meet him in an apartment on March 11, where he along with another person, who had tattoos on his body, forcefully took my phone away to stop me from recording anything. They then said Karma News was planning a ‘negative campaign’ against SPC which could be avoided if we paid them Rs 50 lakh. Additionally, Potti and the person along with him wanted Rs 2 lakh each. I got out saying I need to talk about this with the company’s management,” said Midhun.  

As they refused to comply, Karma News reportedly aired a series of news reports against the company, some of which are still available on their channel. “They did around 13 reports against us alleging that farmers suffered because of the poor quality of our fertilisers since 2017. This was a blatant lie since we had started manufacturing organic fertiliser only in 2020,” said Midhun. 

Easwaran Potti said Karma News management had sent him to do a story on SPC. “While we were doing the story, the company approached us after contacting Vince Mathew. Vince asked me to demand Rs 50 lakh from them and also an extra amount for our expenses. We demanded Rs 50 lakh as directed by him but did not ask Rs 2 lakh extra as alleged. The company said they are not interested and then we left,” Potti told TNM

SPC has also filed a defamation suit against them at a Devikulam court, seeking Rs 1 crore as damages for a Karma News report in which farmers are seen levelling allegations against the company.

Midhun said Vince Mathew approached them again after the company launched an education app called ‘Prana Insight’, saying they had fired Easwaran Potti because he did the “negative” stories at the bidding of chemical fertiliser companies and that Karma News would help in restoring SPC’s reputation if they pay them Rs 50 lakh. 

“A meeting was scheduled at the hotel Grand Hyatt in Kochi. But instead of Vince, a person named Amjad turned up. He introduced himself as an underworld don and asked us for payment,” alleged Midhun.

Later, Karma News CEO Somdev reportedly called Midhun for a meeting at Holiday Inn in Kochi on February 15 this year. “He introduced himself as an RSS man and said Karma would help them if they commit to pay Rs 50 lakh based on an invoice. The demand felt like extortion. We did not entertain them further,” Midhun told TNM. In April this year, Karma News began airing reports against Midhun’s Prana Insight app, alleging cheating and fraud. 

“SPC filed another police complaint against Karma News in April this year,” said Midhun. The FIR named Vince Mathew and Somdev, who have been charged under the IPC sections 385 and 34. The complaint stated that the accused threatened the company that they would exploit the power of media and the RSS, if the complainants failed to cooperate with Karma News.

Easwaran Potti, who worked with the channel till 2021, told TNM that he was forced to do several “fake stories” scripted by the outlet’s management. “They will always tell us what to do and where to go. There would be people ready to give us sound-bytes. One person arranged by the channel would take us to the field,” he alleged.

He further alleged that many stories he did for the news platform were not published, and eventually realised that the company was using these reports to blackmail individuals. “These reports include stories done against prominent jewellers and builders. They might have blackmailed and taken the money,” said Potti.

Anish Raj, the former CEO of Karma News, alleged that the management targeted him after he left the organisation. “After I resigned, they sent goons to attack me, and my wife suffered a miscarriage because of it. They think that I will spill their secrets. They also filed some fake cases against me.” Raj, however, refused to answer questions related to allegations of extortion against the company.

Karma News, while responding to the allegations, through an email said they had withdrawn their news report against Yana Hospital and apologised after learning that it was factually incorrect. However, the digital outlet denied the allegations that the it had attempted to blackmail the hospital. 

Referring to the extortion allegations levelled by the SPC, Karma News said they had written to the company asking them to inform them about any factually incorrect reports, but the company did not respond to them. Karma News also claimed that the agricultural department had taken action against SPC based on their reports, and said that the “allegations of blackmailing are without merit”. 

Earlier, Newslaundry and Confluence Media had filed a defamation suit against Karma News after they aired several reports against a media event Cutting South 2023 was held by the companies in Kochi in March this year. 

The reports alleged that the event, held in partnership with the News Minute and Kerala Media Academy, an autonomous body under the Kerala government, were intended “to separate the country and divide India into north and south, creating a United States of India or South India”. Apart from a mandatory injunction, the petitioners sought Rs 2 crore as damages and an apology. 

Karma News had then told the Delhi High Court that it will not repeat its allegations accusing Newslaundry and Josy Joseph’s Confluence Media of separatist propaganda, anti-national activities and being part of a larger terrorist movement until further orders.

This report was republished from The News Minute as part of The News Minute-Newslaundry alliance. Read about our partnership here and become a TNM Member here.

Also see
article imageWon’t repeat until further orders, says outfit which accused Newslaundry of backing ‘separatism’

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