October 24, 2016
In 2015, Greenpeace had sought help from John Podesta, campaign chief of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, to reach out to Prime Minister Narendra Modi when the Indian government imposed restrictions on the organisation’s funding.
Mr. Podesta had promised to put Kumi Naidoo, then International Executive Director of Greenpeace, in touch with his brother Tony Podesta, who heads the Podesta Group, one of the firms that lobby for India in the U.S.
WikiLeaks on Saturday released an e-mail exchange between Mr. Podesta and Karen Sack, Managing Director of NGO Ocean Unite who had earlier worked with Greenpeace. Ms. Sack had sought help in “explaining to people close to the Prime Minister that their campaigns are about the issues of clean air and clean water”.
“Happy to put Kumi in touch with Tony, but the list of people similarly situated seems to be growing,” Mr. Podesta wrote to Ms. Sack on May 27, 2015. He was Counselor to President Barack Obama until February 2015 and had taken over as the chair of the Hillary Clinton campaign a month before this conversation.
The set of five e-mails does not reveal whether any action was taken following the exchange. Mr. Podesta has refused to comment on the contents of the Wikileaks. An e-mail to Ms. Sack was not immediately answered.
In one e-mail, Mr. Podesta was advised that this would be a serious “diplomatic challenge”. “Adani is very close to Modi — so this will be a delicate diplomatic challenge,” Sergio Knaebel, Grant Director of Sandler Foundation, run by billionaire philanthropist Herbert Sandler wrote to Mr. Podesta. Mr. Podesta had forwarded his conversation with Ms. Sack to Mr. Sandler and Mr. Knaebel.
Sandler Foundation funded ProPublica website and was among the funders of the Center for American Progress, a Democratic think tank founded by Mr. Podesta. It also funded an environmental group in Australia that was opposing a mining project of the Adani Group.
‘A serious situation’
Initiating the conversation on May 26, 2015, Ms. Sack wrote to Mr. Podesta, according to Wikileaks:
“I have had a request from some colleagues at Greenpeace as they are facing a very serious situation in India... the Ministry of Home Affairs has kept up a relentless attack of allegations of irregularities in their registration and has now frozen all their bank accounts, both foreign and domestic, despite a Delhi High Court ruling there was no basis for doing so. The bottom line is that without some kind of intervention, they will have to close down by the end of June...Kumi Naidoo was hoping to speak with you or to get advice on who might be able to help behind the scenes explaining to people close to the Prime Minister that their campaigns are about the issues of clean air and clean water and not personal and their office should not be forced to close because they have a different vision of India’s future...”
Mr. Podesta had offered to put Mr. Naidoo in touch with his brother.
The Adani link
Ms. Sack replied: “What’s going on in India is concerning. There are some interesting linkages between the coal industry there and in Australia. Adani — the coal billionaire from India is the person who plans to invest in building a coal port just near the Great Barrier Reef which has people up in arms down under..”
Mr. Podesta forwarded the conversation to Sandler Foundation officials. The foundation was funding an environmental group in Australia that was opposing a mining project of the Adani Group.
Mr. Knaebel writes to Mr. Podesta in response: “The situation for NGOs in Australia is also getting pretty serious. The Abbot government has set its sights on organizations fighting the expansion of coal and for protecting the reef — and is looking to withdraw charitable status and out foreign donors in an effort to cast the NGO’s work as foreign intervention. Same playbook as India [and Canada].”
Ex-Greenpeace official had sought help in explaining to PM’s aides that its aims were environmental.