Litigation News

WhatsApp before Supreme Court: Who is Sahil Baghla, a bitcoin scam accused? The curious case of Good Governance Chambers and Law Juno

In its reply, WhatsApp has urged that the Court inquire into the credentials of the think tank, "Good Governance Chambers" and its motivation in filing the PIL against WhatsApp Pay, a pilot mobile payments project by FB.

Pallavi Saluja

Meera Emmanuel

WhatsApp has urged the Supreme Court to look into the credentials of think tank Good Governance Chambers, one of the petitioners in the case pending against WhatsApp Pay, a pilot mobile payment project being floated by Facebook. (Good Governance Chambers vs National Payments Corporation of India)

In a reply filed this week through WhatsApp's Director & Associate General Counsel, Brian Hennessy, it is asserted that the digital payment feature of WhatsApp pay has been subjected to intense regulatory scrutiny and oversight by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and the National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI).

It is also noted that the payment feature has been under review by the Supreme court since July 2018 in the case of Centre for Accountability an Systemic Change v. UOI.

It adds that over a two year period, WhatsApp has worked diligently to meet the conditions to launch the full release version of WhatsApp Pay. As such, it contended that there is no occasion for any "busybody" to intervene at this stage to superimpose their views in this process.

Inquire first into motivation of Good Governance Chambers, urges WhatsApp

Concerns have been raised over the credentials and motivations of one of the petitioners in the pending PIL, i.e. Good Governance Chambers (GGC).

WhatsApp's reply states that the think tank has given vague objectives for its functioning, with little to no information on the public domain to substantiate these claims.

The think tank appears to have been formed only recently, states the reply, as guaged from the recent registration of its website.

The reply goes on to refer to certain links found between GGC, the Law Firm Law Juno representing them, a complaint before the Competition Commission of India (CCI) against WhatsApp Pay and a man reported to have been implicated in $300 million worth Bitcoin-based Ponzi scheme, Sahil Baghla. In this regard, the reply details the following.

On the apparent link between the GGC and their lawyers, Law Juno

  • The Good Governance Chambers website was registered on the same date that the petitioner’s law firm, Law Juno was registered.

  • Both websites were registered barely a month before filing the PIL.

  • The Petitioner’s Twitter page was created in February 2020, with its first tweet dated February 13, 2020, two weeks before filing the petition.

  • The Petitioner’s Facebook page was created on March 29, 2020, one month after filing the Petition.

On the apparent link between GGC and a CCI complaint against WhatsApp Pay

  • A complaint was filed to stop WhatsApp pay by one, Mrs. Harshita Chawla on March 19, 2020, shortly after the Petition was filed.

  • The CCI complaint is also directed against WhatsApp and Facebook Inc. and seeks the same core relief (stopping the launch of WhatsApp Pay) based on the same core facts.

  • The address provided in this complaint is identical to that of the petitioner.

  • Both the CCI complaint and the Supreme Court Petition were drawn by the same advocate, Suneha Jain.

  • The petition and the CCI complaint indicates that the advocate is a member of the Law firm, Law Juno.

  • According to Law Juno’s website, the firm shared the same address with the Petitioner and the CCI complainant up until at least May 18, 2020. The website was only recently amended to reflect a new address for Law Juno.

WhatsApp adds in its reply that,
"If Petitioner was in fact involved in the filing of the CCI complaint, Petitioner should have disclosed that fact to this Court promptly and its failure to do so warrants the dismissal of the petition.”

On the apparent link between the Petitioner, their lawyers and a Bitcoin-ponzi scam accused

Law Juno and Good Governance Chambers
Law Juno and Good Governance Chambers
  • One, Sahil Baghla was recently incarcerated in connection with allegations of serious criminal activity, i.e. being involved in a 300 million worth Bitcoin-based Ponzi scheme.

  • The Petitioner’s domain name (www.g2chambers.org) was registered using the alias “Half Monk” with a phone traceable (according to a Truecaller search) to an individual named Mr Sahila Baghla.

  • The domain name of the Petitioner’s law firm (www.lawjuno.com) was registered with the alias “Half Monk” and with the same phone number that registered Petitioner’s domain name i.e., it is traceable to an individual named Sahil Baghla.

  • On LinkedIn, an individual named Sahil Baghla identifies Law Juno as his employer, and is listed as the “job poster” for a “legal researcher” position with Petitioner.

  • According to Law Juno’s website, the firm until recently shared the same address with the Petitioner.

  • Facebook page of an individual named Sahil Baghla contains posts that appear to promote the Petitioner.

Sahil Baghla, a 2012 graduate of IIT Kanpur according to his Linkedin Profile
Sahil Baghla, a 2012 graduate of IIT Kanpur according to his Linkedin Profile IIT

In this backdrop, WhatsApp has now urged the Supreme Court to first inquire into the petitioner's credentials, its connection with Baghla and the motivation in filing the PIL before allowing it to pursue the PIL further.

Inter alia, it is also noted that the "Petitioner appears to have waited for more than two years after the beta version of WhatApp Pay was launched, and almost two years after the well-publicised 2018 Payments PIL (Centre for Accountability an Systemic Change v. UOI) was filed, seeking the same relief as Petitioner, to file this PIL."

Further, it is contended that the petitioner has not demonstrated the violation of any fundamental right to move the PIL in the the Supreme Court. As an unregistered association, it is argued by WhatsApp that the petitioner has no fundamental rights to enforce.

The plea by Good Governance Chambers seeks a ban on WhatsApp's payment service, for not being in line with data localization norms.

When the matter was taken up for hearing last month, WhatsApp assured the Supreme Court that it would not roll out its payment services without duly complying with all the regulations and norms in place in India.

Apart from Good Governance Chambers, a plea in the matter had earlier been moved by the Centre for Accountability and Systemic Change, contending that WhatsApp is not fully in compliance with the norms prescribed in India for launching payment services.

The think tank subsequently filed an application claiming that WhatsApp, in its beta testing stage, was continuing testing its payment service on 1 million users in violation of data localization norms in India. An interim relief thus, was sought in the form of stopping the trials.

Bar & Bench tried to reach GGC and Law Juno. The GGC contact details on their website requested us to only contact them through WhatsApp. GGC's status on WhatsApp puts the mobile phone as last seen on May 9, 2020.

Law Juno has switched off the mobile number given as a contact on their website.

Bar and Bench - Indian Legal news