On June 23, Lakshmi M Puri, wife of Union Minister Hardeep Singh Puri, gave a befitting reply to alleged activist and Congress mouthpiece Saket Gokhale for creating a mischievous Twitter thread filled with baseless allegations against her. Lakshmi Puri has served as Assistant Secretary-General at United Nations, Deputy Executive Director at United Nations Women, and Ambassador of India to Hungary and accredited to Bosnia and Herzegovina. She is currently working as a commentator on National and International Affairs.
Gokhale’s allegations against Puri
In the tweets, Gokhale alleged that Puri bought a house worth $2.5 million in Switzerland, for which the couple did not have enough legitimate sources of income. The house was purchased in 2006. Gokhale alleged that it was declared first by Hardeep Singh Puri in 2017 as a member of the union cabinet. Lakshmi Puri took a loan of CHF 1.6 million for the house.
As 20% of the loan amount has to be covered by the borrower, Puri had to show an income of CHF 3,00,000 which, according to Gokhale, was not possible as she was drawing Rs 8.4 lakh with Rs 1.4 lakh grade pay as an IFS officer. He had calculated that the annual income of Lakshmi M Puri would be Rs 10-12 lakh per year. He also calculated that a down payment of CHF 5,40,000 (Rs. 4.3 crores) must have been made, which according to him is not possible with the known incomes of the Puris.
Lakshmi M Puri gave a befitting reply
Puri took to Twitter to reply to Gokhale’s allegations and asked him to get his facts right. She informed that while posted at UN, she was getting a tax-free salary as per UN scale, not as per IFS scale. Therefore, she was getting over US $200,000 per year, which translates to around Rs 1.5 crore at the current exchange rate. She said, “Get your facts right, Saket Gokhale & there is no ‘mystery’. I was an International Civil Servant from 2002 to Feb ‘18. Drew a tax free UN salary of over US $200,000 annually when I bought the apartment in Geneva.” She further added, “All facts declared to concerned authorities. Prepare to be sued.”
Get your facts right @SaketGokhale & there is no ‘mystery’. I was an International Civil Servant from 2002 to Feb ‘18. Drew a tax free UN salary of over US $200,000 annually when I bought the apartment in Geneva.— Lakshmi M Puri (@lakshmiunwomen) June 23, 2021
All facts declared to concerned authorities.
Prepare to be sued.
This shows that the annual income of Lakshmi M Puri was significantly higher than Rs10-12 lakh estimated by Saket Gokhale, which explain how she was able to afford the house. It shows there is no ‘mystery’ in the issue as alleged by Saket Gokhale, it only shows that he is ignorant about the remuneration of people employed at the United Nations. Lakshmi Puri also threatened that she will sue Saket Gokhale.
Saket Gokhale spreads further lies in defence
After taken aback by the rebuttal from Puri, Gokhale tried to salvage his position on the issue. He asked if she was earning $200,000 a year, why it was not mentioned in the affidavit submitted by her husband Hardeep Singh Puri during his Rajya Sabha election. However, as always, this allegation by Gokhale was also baseless.
Saket Gokhale pointed towards the affidavit where the income of Hardeep Singh Puri’s spouse income was mentioned as Rs 11.52 lakh for the financial year 2016-2017. By this, he wanted to prove that Lakshmi M Puri’s true income was not mentioned in the union minister’s affidavit, despite the fact that she was a govt official earning a salary, not a businesswoman who can hide income. Regarding the affidavit, it clearly mentions that it needs the income as reflected in the Income Tax return for that financial year.
As Lakshmi M Puri was not earning her salary in India, her salary was not mentioned in the ITR filed in India. The amount of Rs 11.52 lakh mentioned in the affidavit must be from her other sources of income in India.
Saket Gokhale also questioned why the details of assets owned by Lakshmi Puri are not mentioned in the affidavit of her spouse, which is an absolute lie. The affidavit mentions the details of nine bank accounts held by her in India, Geneva and New York, with a combined deposit of around Rs 3.50 crore. The details were mentioned under the heading “Details of Movable Assets”, which also informed that she has gold worth Rs 20 lakh.
Netizens came in support of Puri
Several netizens supported Lakshmi M Puri and explained how ignorant Gokhale behaved while drawing the allegations. Sourabh Choudhary, National General Secretary BJYM, said, “Please for God sake stop calling yourself a transparency activist and investigator, as you are bringing shame to those who take their job seriously. To correct your facts for a long time, Smt Lakshmi M Puri served in UN where salaries are tax-free and paid in dollars.” He further asked Gokhale to research appropriately before making such baseless allegations.
Please for God sake stop calling yourself a transperancy activist and investigator, as you are bringing shame to those, who really take their job seriously.— Sourabh Choudhary (@MrChoudharyS) June 23, 2021
To correct your facts for long time, Smt @lakshmiunwomen served in UN where salaries are tax free and paid in dollars. https://t.co/4lEmWVlL0R
Kaushik Burman, Strategic Partner at Gogoro, said, “UN pay, cost of living adjustments and allowances are in the public domain. Names of UN senior staff and their tenures is in the public domain. MPs assets liabilities declarations all online. UN salary is not subject to Indian tax at all. It’s a tax-free salary. #factcheck must.”
UN pay, cost of living adjustments and allowances are in the public domain. Names of UN senior staff and their tenures is in the public domain. MPs assets liabilities declarations all online.— Kaushik Burman (@kaushikburman) June 23, 2021
UN salary is not subject to Indian tax at all. It’s a tax free salary. #factcheck must
Previous blunders by Saket Gokhale
This is not the first time Saket has made baseless allegations. In April 2021, he was caught peddling lies to defend the Maharashtra govt’s harassment of Bruck Pharma director over Remdesivir supply. He later complained with Maharashtra Home Minister about how Leader of the Opposition Devendra Fadnavis or the BJP, as private players, could obtain a crucial drug when its sale is allowed only to the state government.
In March 2021, he tried to float the conspiracy theory that the BJP IT cell was behind the letter because why would Parambir Singh refer to himself with ‘Shri’ salutation. As the letter was not signed and Parambir Singh respectfully addressed himself as ‘Shri’, Saket Gokhale declared that the letter was fake. Incidentally, the assertion of Saket Gokhale had come despite Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh had issued a statement confirming Parambir Singh’s letter.
Reportedly, a complaint was lodged with the Narcotics Control Bureau against Saket Gokhale, accusing him of earning drug money through the means of crowdfunding. Also, several people, including left liberals, have accused him of being a ‘fraud’ and had alleged that Gokhale collects money on the pretext of filing RTIs.
Update: Lakshmi M Puri sends legal notice to Saket Gokhale
After asking Saket Gokhale to be prepared to get sued, Lakshmi Puri acted swiftly, and send a legal notice asking him to apologise and remove his tweets. The notice sent by her lawyers says that Gokhale’s tweets are factually incorrect and libellous against their client. It says that the tweets are maliciously motivated, laced with canards and entail deliberate twisting of facts in order to cause reputational damage and irrevocable harm.
The legal notice counters the claims by Saket Gokhale, saying that Lakhsmi Puri was employed by UNCTAD for 7 years from 2002 to 2009 in her individual capacity, she was not deputed by govt of India. At UNCAD, she was paid salary in Swiss Franc, and later she became an ASG at United Nations from 2011 to 2018 where she was paid in US Dollars. It reiterates that her salary was over 200,000 USD.
Refuting the allegations later made by Gokhale that Lakshmi Puri’s annual income of $200,000 is not shown in the election affidavit of her husband Hardeep Singh Puri, the legal notice said that the affidavit needs to mention only the taxable Indian Income. As her salaries in UN are tax-free and they are not taxable in India, the same is not mentioned in her Income Tax Return in India, and that’s why it was not mentioned in in the affidavit.
The Legal notice also accuses Saket Gokhale of making the PAN detail of their client public, which could be misused causing irreparable harm. However, the PAN details are there in the affidavit filed by her husband Hardeep Singh Puri, which is already in public domain as per Indian laws.
The legal notice asks Saket Gokhale to apologise immediately, remove the tweets and give an undertaking that he will not resort to such slanderous behaviour ever in future. If he fails to do so, he will face civil and criminal action and punitive damages for defamation and injury.