The Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) on Thursday demanded a Supreme Court-monitored probe into the Panama Papers leak, which revealed the names of Indians who had set up offshore financial entities in tax havens.
Congress spokesman Jairam Ramesh told a news conference that the names revealed in an investigation by an international consortium of journalists included people close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his party.
“How can there be an impartial investigation by the finance ministry? Only a Supreme Court monitored investigation will be impartial,” he said.
Thursday’s demand came after The Indian Express newspaper published the name of sports promoter Lokesh Sharma as one of the several Indians who had set up entities in British Virgin Islands (BVI) in a possible attempt to evade taxes.
Sharma, Ramesh said, is close to several BJP leaders, including finance minister Arun Jaitley. The Congress leader demanded Jaitley recuse himself from any probe into the matter.
On his part, Sharma denied any wrongdoing. “The companies in question have been set up legitimately with due processes as per the laws of India. To get details of my overseas and domestic investments, you need not go to Panama or Cyprus. All details are available in our filings with the Reserve Bank of India and the Registrar of Companies,” he said.
Ramesh alleged that sports management firm 21st Century Media, owned by Sharma, got a contract from the Delhi and District Cricket Association (DDCA) to sell corporate boxes and collect commission. “On October 14, 2000, there was a meeting of the DDCA under the chairmanship of Jaitley. The minutes of the meeting reveal that Chetan Chauhan was authorised to negotiate and sign the agreement regarding in-stadia advertising for international matches for three years with the 21st Century Media,” he said.
In a separate press conference, AAP spokesperson Ashutosh echoed the Congress leader’s charges about closeness between Jaitley and Sharma and demanded that the finance minister step down.
Jaitley refused to comment on the issue on Thursday. The finance minister has repeatedly rubbished allegations linking him with the sports management firm. Last December, he filed a criminal defamation suit against Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal and five other AAP leaders in this connection.
On the allegations about the DDCA contract, Lokesh Sharma said: “We have already filed a defamation case in the DDCA matter in Delhi high court and the matter is sub judice. In view of this, I cannot comment on it.”
He said the financial details about his companies quoted by The Indian Express newspaper were “not from any ‘Panama Papers’ but a reproduction from our filings with the ROC and RBI.” All statutory filings had been made and that all details could be verified from the relevant departments in India, he said.
“It is unfortunate that this story has provided an opportunity to vested interests to settle personal scores and I have become a tiny football in this big political game. I have been friends with Mr Jaitley like I have been with various others from across the political spectrum,” Sharma said. “Let me tell you that I have known Mr Ramesh for two decades. That doesn’t prove anything.”