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Paradise Papers: Tax officials say waiting for govt word before any probe

Sources in the income tax department said they would initiate an inquiry into the original documents once the government gave the go-ahead.

india Updated: Nov 06, 2017 17:28 IST
P Suchetana Ray
A total of 714 Indians, including politicians, industrialists and celebrities, figure in the documents that focus on their off-shore investments and operations.
A total of 714 Indians, including politicians, industrialists and celebrities, figure in the documents that focus on their off-shore investments and operations.(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Tax officials will study leaked financial documents that show alleged offshore dealings of hundreds of Indians but will wait for word from the government before deciding on any investigation, multiple government sources said on Monday.

The so-called “Paradise Papers”, released on Sunday by a collective of international journalists who pored over it for months, run into more than 13 million records and internal communications obtained from Bermuda-based offshore law firm Appleby and Singapore’s Asiaciti, a business consulting company. A total of 714 Indians, including politicians, industrialists and celebrities, figure in the documents that focus on their alleged off-shore investments and operations. The Indian Express reported the findings on Monday.

“The department will start its work once we get the original documents,” a tax officer, who did not wish to be named because of the sensitivity of the case, said referring to the “Paradise Papers”.

A second tax office source said investigation agencies were waiting for “directions” from the government regarding investigations against the people named in the documents. Junior civil aviation minister Jayant Sinha, BJP Rajya Sabha MP RK Sinha and Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan’s names figure in the papers, the Indian Express said.

“All these transactions have been fully disclosed to relevant authorities through all necessary filings as required,” minister Sinha said in a series of tweets.

Asked for his reaction, BJP MP Sinha was seen in an ANI news agency video scribbling on a piece of paper in Hindi, “On a seven-day vow of silence for a bhagwat yagna.”

Bachchan was yet to speak on the matter, although in a blog published hours before the “Paradise Papers” were released he said he only seeks peace and freedom from prominence, and that he was ready to answer any questions.

A Special Investigation Team (SIT) already investigating cases of black money might also look into the latest documents, said a source who is part of the panel’s office. The SIT on black money comprises the top bosses of India’s federal and financial crime agencies and reports to the Supreme Court.

Setting up an offshore firm or account or transferring money back to the country is not illegal unless kept a secret from Indian authorities. “We need to study the documents and then match them with our data to see if there’s any illegality, if there has been tax evasion,” said a third tax source, who also refused to be identified.

Several of Appleby’s prominent Indian clients named in the papers are already under investigation by agencies such as the Central Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement Directorate for alleged financial crimes.

Sources said in cases where corporate organisations set up offshore companies, the Enforcement Directorate usually first orders an inquiry to see if they were started with the RBI’s permission under the liberalised remittance route.

India ranks 19 out of 180 countries in terms of number of names and accounts figuring in the “Paradise Papers”, according to Indian Express which is studying the Indian aspect of the findings.

Queen Elizabeth II, top members of US President Donald Trump’s cabinet and Russian president Vladimir Putin’s son are other prominent names in the documents.

Data from Appleby and Asiaciti was obtained by German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung, which shared it with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.