A European NGO has surged from obscurity to international limelight overnight — not for the causes it claims to champion but for facilitating a day’s tour of European lawmakers to Jammu and Kashmir amid ongoing restrictions.
The visit, aided by the non-profit Women’s Eco-Nomic and Social Think Tank (WESTT), has been described as unofficial. The opposition Congress questioned the background of the visitors and that of the nonprofit. “These EU MPs who are travelling to J&K – Their credentials are quite interesting & who runs this mysterious NGO – WESTT that is funding -visit & hosting them. Any Guesses?? read a stinging tweet by party spokesman Manish Tewari.
No guesses here. India Today has dug the facts out.
Official records reviewed by India Today show WESTT is a six-year-old NGO. The nonprofit was registered on September 19, 2013, under Section 4 of the EU’s Think Tanks And Research Institutions” category.
On its part, the NGO claims to be represented across 14 countries. But India Today found that its budget is too modest to support an operation of such scale.
According to the official EU records, WESTT received total funds of 24,000, or roughly around Rs 19 lakh, during the last financial year. The nonprofit received this fund as an annual donation apparently from a single donor.
EU records further reveal that the NGO is a corporate social responsibility activity of a UK-based business company called Madi Group. The filings indicate Madi is probably WESTT’s major financier.
Records identify the NGO founder/director with the same name — Madi Sharma alias Madhu Sharma. The woman director, who describes herself as international business broker, insists she gets no remuneration from the nonproft so that the “cost is kept down and the budget remains low”.
Madi Sharma alias Madhu Sharma (Pic credit: Madi Sharma)
Sharma’s official profile says she currently works in India, South Africa and across Europe with businesses and governments. “She is a business ambassador for Nottingham and a business champion for the East Midlands, reads her profile on the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) website.
Official EU records reveal none of the NGO members is accredited to the European Parliament. The last official meeting involving WESTT and European Commission representatives was held in Brussels in March, 2015 on female entrepreneurship.
The NGO claims to have members or representation in multiple countries, including Belgium, Croatia, France, Poland, the UK, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, China, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Turkey.
But records show that the organization has a small team of five people, only one of them engaged full time and the rest “located in different areas globally engaging on volunteer basis.
According to their official website, the Madi Group includes a business brokerage company named “I3I”, which “links global corporate companies, business to business and governments through introductions, intelligence and innovation.”
According to corporate filings, I3I UK Ltd is run by an Indian director, Ajaz Akbar. This company declared a total capital and reserves of only £ 11,500 in 2017. The Madi Group also claims to have subsidiaries such as an import/export firm by the name of Madi Magnesium.
The Group also claims to run another non-profit named Extraordinary Education. Official records also show that WESTT has not received any fund from any government entity so far.
India Today’s visit to WESTT’s Nottingham registered address raised more questions than answers — the nonproift was nowhere to be found in the UK neighbourhood. An occupant came out, saying no NGO operates out of his home.