A fresh expose “Paradise Papers” by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) has lifted the veil on the offshore activities of some powerful people across the word, including some Indians, in order to escape the tax net.
Over 700 Indian names, including those of politicians, corporate leaders and celebrities, figured in the leaked “Paradise Papers”, detailing business dealings in offshore tax havens. Out of the 180 countries represented in the data, India is reported to rank 19th in terms of the number of names.
After the expose, the Centre on Monday announced the setting up of a reconstituted multi-agency group (MAG) headed by the CBDT chairman to also investigate cases of the Paradise Papers, that will have members from the income-tax department, Enforcement Directorate, the Reserve Bank of India and Financial Intelligence Unit. The MAG was already investigating the earlier ICIJ leak of the “Panama Papers”, which too had revealed the names of some prominent Indians.
The CBDT said that investigation units of the income-tax department have been alerted to take note of the revelations as they are published in the coming days by ICIJ partners for immediate appropriate action.
“It has been reported that many cases of offshore entities are already under investigation on the fast track. As soon as further information surfaces, swift action as per the law will follow,” the CBDT said.
Markets regulator Sebi too will look into the alleged fund diversion and corporate governance lapses at various listed firms and their promoters as exposed by the ICIJ in the “Paradise Papers”.
The reports indicated that the Indian names figuring in the expose include Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan, defaulter businessman Vijay Mallya, corporate lobbyist Niira Radia, filmstar Sanjay Dutt’s wife Dilnashin, Union minister of state Jayant Sinha and Rajya Sabha MP R.K. Sinha. Most of them, however, have denied any wrongdoing.
The Paradise Papers documents include nearly seven million loan agreements, financial statements, emails, trust deeds and other paperwork over nearly 50 years from inside Appleby, a prestigious offshore law firm with offices in Bermuda and elsewhere.
The leaked documents include files from the smaller, family-owned trust company Asiaciti, and from company registries in 19 secrecy jurisdictions. The Sun Group, founded by Nand Lal Khemka, figured as Appleby’s second largest client with as many as 118 offshore entities, as per the reports.
The Indian names also included those associated with the Sun-TV-Aircel-Maxis case, the Essar-Loop 2G case, the SNC-Lavalin in which Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan was named and then cleared, and a case against Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy; as well as entities linked to the Rajasthan ambulance scam that names an entity called Ziquista Healthcare (with Congress leader Sachin Pilot and former minister P. Chidambaram’s son Karti as early honorary/independent directors).