British Foreign Minister James Cleverly raised the issue of tax searches at the BBC’s offices in India during a meeting with his counterpart in New Delhi on Wednesday, the minister told Reuters.
In response, Cleverly was “firmly told that all entities operating in India must comply fully with relevant laws and regulations”, an Indian government source said.
Last month, India’s tax authorities spent three days searching the BBC offices in New Delhi and Mumbai, where they cloned data from the digital devices of some senior employees.
Cleverly did not share details about the conversation with India’s Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar ahead of a G20 foreign ministers’ meeting on Thursday.
“The conversations I had with him are best to keep with him. I did raise it,” he told Reuters in an interview.
“One of the advantages of having such a strong and professional relationship with Dr. Jaishankar is I am able to bring up, and indeed he brings up with me, some of these sensitive issues. I did raise it with him.”
However, he said that the vast bulk of the conversation was about the positive bilateral work.
The hallmark of a positive relationship, he said, “is that you can discuss the sensitive and difficult issues and it doesn’t derail us from talking about the really, really positive agenda that we are both hoping to pursue”.
Asked if there were concerns about civil liberties in India, Cleverly said: “We want to ensure that values that both our countries feel strongly about are upheld. That means working together on a range of issues.”
Documentary on PM
The searches at the BBC’s offices in February came after the Indian government reacted angrily to a documentary made by the British broadcaster about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s leadership of the western state of Gujarat during riots in 2002.
However, the government has said that the searches were not related to the documentary, and followed at least 10 tax notices that had been sent to the BBC.
Without naming the BBC, Jaishankar last week called the documentary “politics by another means”.
“You want to do a hatchet job and say, well you know this is just another quest for truth which we decided after 20 years to put out at this time,” he said, adding the timing was not accidental.
Whether or not the election season had started in India, “but for sure it has started in London and New York”, Jaishankar said.
The BBC has stood by its reporting for the documentary and said it would cooperate with the tax authorities. It has also said it would not be put off from reporting without fear or favour and that it does not have an agenda.