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Billionaire Asif Aziz did not publicly pledge wealth to India mosque

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Posts repeatedly shared online falsely claimed London-based billionaire Asif Aziz donated 500 million dollars for the construction of a mosque near a controversial Hindu temple in India, purportedly telling Britain’s Telegraph newspaper he would “dedicate” his wealth to the project. However, the foundation tasked with building the mosque said it could not yet receive foreign donations as of April 1, while a spokesperson for Aziz separately refuted the claim. AFP found no trace of the purported article on the newspaper’s website.

The claim was shared on Facebook on March 2. The post claimed Aziz had “drawn global attention” for donating 5,000 crore taka — around 500 million dollars — to build a mosque next to the Ram temple in Ayodhya.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the controversial Hindu temple in January, which was built on grounds once home to the centuries-old Babri mosque. The mosque was torn down in 1992 by Hindu zealots incited by members of Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

The demolition triggered riots that killed 2,000 people, most of them Muslims, and shook the foundations of India’s officially secular political order.

Following a long legal battle surrounding the construction of Ram temple on the site where the Babri mosque once stood, India’s top court earmarked a piece of land for the construction of a new mosque some 25 kilometres (15 miles) from the city.

The post featured a video which claimed Aziz, a London-based property entrepreneur and philanthropist, supposedly announced the donation in an interview with The Telegraph.

A narrator said in the video: “In an interview with the UK daily newspaper The Telegraph, he said: ‘You don’t just need money to build a mosque, you need courage. I am ready to dedicate all my wealth to keep the legacy of Babri alive beside Ram Temple'”.

The video did not show any screenshot of the purported Telegraph article or provide a link to it.

<span>Screenshot of the false post, taken April 2, 2024</span>

Screenshot of the false post, taken April 2, 2024

Posts making a similar claim were also shared elsewhere on Facebook as well as on YouTube.

‘No involvement’

However, a representative for the Indo-Islamic Cultural Foundation tasked with building the mosque told AFP on April 1 it did not have permission yet to accept foreign donations.

“There’s a thorough scrutiny of the account details before approval is given for foreign donations,” said Athar Hussain, who serves as secretary for the foundation.

A spokeswoman for Aziz separately told AFP he was not involved in planning or funding the mosque.

“We would like to clarify that these social media claims are false and inaccurate,” the representative from Flamepr public relations agency said. “Mr. Asif Aziz has not made any donations or announcements of 5,000 crore taka towards the construction of a mosque in Ayodhya, nor has he been involved in its planning or funding in any capacity.”

A keyword search on The Telegraph’s website found just one article about Aziz and mosques.

The story — titled “Mosque may be built in London’s Trocadero” — was published on July 16, 2023. It reported on Aziz’s plans to build a mosque inside the Trocadero entertainment complex in London’s West End  (archived link).

The article did not mention the mosque construction near the Ram temple.

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