I-T raids trigger fresh political storm in Rajasthan
While the finance ministry denied that the raids were politically motivated, people familiar with the matter said everyone raided has links with CM Ashok Gehlot.Updated: Jul 14, 2020 04:56 IST
As the political drama in Rajasthan played out on Monday, following deputy chief minister Sachin Pilot’s revolt against chief minister Ashok Gehlot, the Union government seemed to deal itself a hand in the game with the Income Tax (IT) department and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) conducting raids on several companies and individuals linked to Gehlot and his associates or the Congress itself.
While the finance ministry denied that the raids were politically motivated, people familiar with the matter said everyone raided has links with the CM. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has said it is not involved in the drama playing out in Rajasthan.
The I-T department carried out “search and survey operations on three groups” at 20 premises in Jaipur, six in Kota, eight in Delhi and nine in Mumbai, according to the government.
One of the groups is involved in business activities such as hotel, hydro power projects, metal and auto sectors. “It is suspected to have invested unaccounted income generated from these activities into real estate,” a government statement said.
It added that the second group is engaged in the business of trading of silver/gold jewellery and antique silver articles, and has associate enterprises in other countries. The third group is involved in hotel business, it said.
Among those raided were Rajiv Arora of Amrapali Jewels, who is also the vice president of the Congress in the state; the Om Kothari Group, which has interests in engineering, construction, real estate, automotive dealerships, and manufacturing; and Mayank Sharma Enterprises.
A tax official said on condition of anonymity that the “department received information of tax evasion worth crores of rupees. At present, a team of 100 officials are carrying out searches at more than 22 locations linked to Dharmendera Singh Rathore and Rajiv Arora.”
“Rathore is All India Congress Committee Member and former chairman of Rajasthan Seeds Corporation,” said a Congress functionary who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Meanwhile, ED raided Jaipur’s Fairmont Hotel in the afternoon; Gehlot has housed around 100 MLAs loyal to him at the hotel. “The raids were initiated after it received information about violations of Foreign Exchange Management Act, 1999, rules. It is alleged that Ravikant Sharma received foreign funding worth Rs 96.7 crores from Mauritius,” said an ED official who asked not to be named.
People familiar with the matter said the Mumbai-based Mayank Sharma Enterprises owns the hotel and alleged that one of its main investors, Sharma, is associated with Vaibhav Gehlot, son of Ashok Gehlot. BJP leader Kirit Somaiya claimed in 2013 that a Mauritius-based company purchased the shares, having a value of Rs 100, of Trion Hotels and Resorts of Sharma, at an absurd amount of Rs 40,000 each while seeking a probe into the involvement of Vaibhav Gehlot in the affair.
The probe, IT officials said, pertains to tax evasion and some benami (proxy) transactions; raids were conducted after examining several documents over a period of time, they added.
A finance ministry official said: “Raids are being conducted by the income-tax department’s field formations based on inputs related to tax evasion. Such raids take place only after prolonged investigations and after finding discrepancies in the company or individuals tax returns. So, allegations of politically motivated raids hold no ground. In fact, those indulging in tax evasion often term such raids as motivated to cover up their illegal activities.”
The Congress questioned the timing of the raids. “The frontal departments of the BJP – IT and ED -- have come out in the field. When will CBI come?” Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala tweeted.
Om Kothari group’s flagship, Om Metals Infraprojects Ltd, the IT officials added, was raided in connection with transactions related to a contract given to it to build a dam in Rajasthan.
Interestingly, Om Metals’ joint managing director Sunil Kothari was raided by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in November 2017 in connection with the AgustaWestland case.
When contacted, a representative at Om Metals’ main office in Pushp Vihar, Saket, said: “IT officials are still here” and added that he isn’t authorised to talk to the media.
State BJP president Satish Poonia said it was “mere coincidence that the IT raids took place today. These agencies are independent and an extensive exercise is done before. These things (raids) don’t happen on a whim.”