More than 30 Bollywood celebrities, including Jackie Shroff, Kailash Kher, Sonu Sood and Vivek Oberoi, have allegedly been caught in a sting operation by online portal Cobrapost on Tuesday. They agreed to promote the agenda of political parties on social media platforms in exchange for money.
Operation Karaoke by Cobrapost had its reporters posing as representatives from a public relations company. They met actors, singers, dancers and TV stars through their managers to allegedly strike a deal ahead of the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.
Addressing a press conference here, Cobrapost editor-in-chief Aniruddha Bahl said the sting revolves around 36 celebrities agreeing to post messages on their Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts. Their work was to help create a favourable environment for certain political parties in the run up to the elections.
Celebs under scanner
Jackie Shroff, Kailash Kher, Sonu Sood and Vivek Oberoi, Shreyas Talpade, Sunny Leone, Shakti Kapoor, Ameesha Patel, Tisca Chopra, Rakhi Sawant, TV star Pankaj Dheer and son Nikitin Dheer, Puneet Issar, Minissha Lamba, Mahima Chaudhary, Rohit Roy, Aman Verma, Koena Mitra and Rahul Bhat among others.
Singers Daler Mehndi, Mika, Abhijeet Bhattacharya, Baba Sehgal, choreographer Ganesh Acharya
Comedians Rajpal Yadav, Raju Srivastava, Krushna Abhishek and Vijay Ishwarlal Pawar (VIP)
TV actor Hiten Tejwani along with wife Gauri Pradhan. Talking to PTI, Tejwani said, “All I can say that we haven’t taken any money…They wanted to give us money and made a sting out of it ..They are showing half conversations… the accusations are fake as the Cobrapost.”
Political parties in question
According to Cobrapost, the party in question was, in most cases, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), and the Congress in some instances.
Celebrities who turned down Cobrapost’s offer
Vidya Balan, Arshad Warsi, Raza Murad and Saumya Tandon
Many celebrities agreed to share their PAN number and banking details but most preferred cash, Bahl claimed.
The media portal has put out videos of the celebrities caught in the sting. Cobrapost reporters approached these celebrities representing a fictitious PR agency and taking on aliases.
Actor Sonu Sood has released a statement where he alleged that his conversation with outlet’s representatives was “wrongly reproduced and projected”.
The actor said it is regular for brands, political parties and corporates to use celebrities’ social media platforms for promotions.
According to Cobrapost, most of the celebrities asked for a fee ranging from Rs 2 lakh to Rs 50 lakh per message.
“Some even quoted a fee of Rs 20 crore for an eight-month contract, and almost none of them said no to black money when we told them a bulk of their fee would be paid in cash,” the portal claimed.