An Indian venture capitalist is mounting an international legal campaign to pressure major media outlets to remove his name from articles or take down the stories altogether, Confider has learned.
In a move that has press freedom campaigners troubled, Rajat Khare, co-founder of Appin, an India-based tech company, has used a variety of law firms in a number of different jurisdictions to threaten these U.S., British, Swiss, Indian, and French-language media organizations.
On Nov. 16, Reuters published a special investigation under the headline “How an Indian startup hacked the world,” detailing how Appin allegedly became a “hack for hire powerhouse that stole secrets from executives, politicians, military officials and wealthy elites around the globe”—a claim that Khare strongly denies. Khare retained the powerhouse “media assassin” firm Clare Locke LLP, which boasts on its website about “killing stories,” to send Reuters several legal threats over the past year about the story, according to two people familiar with the matter.
Reuters was then forced to pull the article following a Dec. 4 order from a New Delhi, India, court ruling that the article was prima facie “indicative of defamation,” according to a copy of the order obtained and reviewed by Confider. In a brief editor's note replacing the article, Reuters wrote that it is appealing the decision and stands by its reporting, which “was based on interviews with hundreds of people, thousands of documents, and research from several cybersecurity firms.”
This is not the first time Khare has flexed his legal muscles and managed to threaten reporters into removing his name from stories about the hack-for-hire industry.
Across the pond, Khare had his name removed from a joint investigation between The Sunday Times and the nonprofit Bureau of Investigative Journalism, titled, “Caught on camera: confessions of the hackers for hire.” Three paragraphs that reported on Khare were removed from both publications following legal threats on his behalf, according to two people familiar with the situation. Luxembourg-based Paperjam, a French-language business news outlet, dramatically altered its story “after discussions with Mr. Khare’s advisors,” removing references to his alleged links to cyber-mercenary activity.
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In Switzerland, meanwhile, lawyers acting for Khare managed to take out an injunction that forced the Swiss Radio and Television’s investigative team (SRF Investigativ) to scrub the tech entrepreneur’s name from a story alleging that Appin assisted the Qatari government in spying on FIFA officials ahead of the 2022 World Cup. An editor’s note now added to that story reads: “On November 6, 2022, this publication was amended due to an interim court order. The name of the entrepreneur concerned has been removed from the publication.”
Clare Locke also sent legal threats on behalf of Khare to The New Yorker as the magazine worked on a story about India’s hack-for-hire industry, Semafor reported. Khare’s efforts also appear to have gotten similar stories about him killed in India-based outlets including The Times of India and The Scroll.
“Mr. Khare does not comment on legal proceedings, but he defends himself judicially in all relevant jurisdictions against any attacks that target him and illegitimately damage his reputation,” Clare Locke partner Joseph Oliveri wrote in a statement to Confider. “Mr. Khare has dedicated much of his career to the field of information technology security—that is, cyber-defense and the prevention of illicit hacking—and it is truly unfortunate that he has found himself the subject of false accusations of involvement in a ‘hack-for hire’ industry or supporting or engaging in illicit hacking or cyber activities. Those accusations are categorically false. They have been rejected by courts and regulatory bodies and debunked by experts. And Mr. Khare will not hesitate to continue to take steps to enforce his rights and protect his reputation from such false attacks.”
While the metaphorical jury’s still out on the veracity of reports about Khare, the issue for press freedom activists is the sheer scale of his endeavor to kill stories across three continents.
“This is certainly a very concerning and very troubling series of lawsuits against the media outlets involved and we see as a global organization a growing trend of… lawsuits of this very nature to silence and censor the press including by wealthy business people,” Scott Griffen, deputy director of the International Press Institute, told Confider. “This is absolutely a huge concern worldwide and powerful business people need to be able to accept and withstand the public scrutiny that comes with that position.”
A rep for Reuters pointed Confider to their published editor’s note, while reps for The New Yorker and The Sunday Times declined to comment, and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism did not respond to a request for one.
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