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Photo shows Rahul Gandhi with Italy’s Castaldo, not an ISI agent

Man circled in red is European Parliament member Fabio Massimo Castaldo

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Claim: Rahul Gandhi was photographed with an ISI agent.

Fact: The picture is authentic, but the man incorrectly identified as an ISI agent is, in fact, Italian politician and member of the European Parliament, Fabio Massimo Castaldo.

On 8 September 2023, X (formerly twitter) user @cutedikshaji posted a picture (archive) of a group of people, including Indian National Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, with the following caption:

“राहुल गाँधी के बराबर में जो व्यक्ति खड़ा है वो पाकिस्तानी आईएसआई का एजेंट है यूरोप में क्या कोई और सबूत देश को चाहिये के जब भी ये देश से बाहर जाते हैं देश विरोधी आग फैलाकर आते हैं….
[The person standing next to Rahul Gandhi is an agent of Pakistani ISI in Europe. Does the country need any other proof that whenever they go out of the country, anti-nationals come back spreading fire….]”

Gandhi — who is also a member of the lower house of India’s Parliament, also known as the Lok Sabha or the House of the People — is an ardent critic of his country’s prime minister and member of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Narendra Modi.

The post alleges that the man seen in the red circle is “an agent of Pakistani ISI in Europe”. The ISI, or Inter-Services Intelligence, is Pakistan’s intelligence agency.

Fact or Fiction?

Using Google Lens, we found multiple X (formerly Twitter) posts mentioning Rahul Gandhi and a meeting of the European Parliament members. Looking up further, we found this 8 September article (archive) published in The Hindu stating that the Congress leader “held closed-door meetings with some members of the European Parliament (MEPs) in Brussels on Thursday, marking the start of his three-nation European tour”.

The publication noted that the Brussels discussions “were not listed on the official parliamentary agenda of the day”, which is probably why much information is not available on official websites.

Other outlets, such as Oneindia Kannada and OpIndia, posted about Gandhi’s meetings during his Europe tour.

The picture was also posted by the Gandhi’s party, Congress, which mentioned Pierre Larrouturou, a member of the European Parliament, in its caption. We subsequently found X posts by him about his meeting with Gandhi here and here.

With the help of Yandex Reverse Image Search, Soch Fact Check was able to identify — using an Instagram post — the man encircled in the viral posts as Fabio Massimo Castaldo, an Italian politician and member of the European Parliament, not a member of Pakistan’s ISI.

In June 2020, Castaldo posted (archive) on X that he wrote a letter to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Josep Borrell Fontelles — the European Union’s high representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy — about the human rights situation in Kashmir, terming it “extremely worrying”.

Right-wing Indian media outlet OpIndia termed Castaldo an “anti-India politician” and published an article about his meeting with Gandhi, suggesting he has a “connection with Pervaiz Iqbal Losar”, the chairperson of the EU-Pak Friendship Federation Europe.

This, as well as his letter on Kashmir, is perhaps why the picture in question gained significant traction among conservative Indian people and news agencies with the false claim.

However, there is no credible evidence that Castaldo is a member or agent of the ISI, rendering the claim false.

Many X users have also flagged the claim as false here, here, and here.

Lastly, NewsChecker and Digital Forensics, Research and Analytics Centre (D-FRAC) — accredited by the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN), of which Soch Fact Check is also a signatory — also debunked the claim.

Virality

Soch Fact Check found at least three viral tweets with the false claim here, here, and here, which gained more than 352,000, 228,000, and 20,500 views, respectively.

We also found the false claim here, here, here, and here on Facebook.

Conclusion: The picture is authentic but the man wrongly identifed as an ISI agent is, in fact, Italian politician and member of the European Parliament, Fabio Massimo Castaldo.


Background image in cover photo: Craig Whitehead


To submit an appeal on our fact-check, please send an email to appeals@sochfactcheck.com

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