The Ministry of Finance on Thursday said law enforcement agencies were looking into documents that emerged earlier in the day linking Indian individuals or organisations to secret tax havens abroad. Indian personalities reportedly figure in at least 12,000 of the 1.2 million new documents that form the second lot of Panama Papers leaked from the database of offshore law firm Mossack Fonseca and shared with several media organisations across the world. The first Panama Papers leak in 2016 comprised 11.5 million documents.
“As per the standard operating procedures in place for investigating such cases, examining the information revealed in the media release with the disclosures made by the alleged persons in the annual returns of income filed, particularly in the foreign assets schedule, foreign remittance details etc will be undertaken expeditiously, followed by raising of relevant queries,” the ministry said in a statement. “Subsequently, investigations in appropriate cases would be carried out to bring them to a logical conclusion.”
The new set of documents, known as Panama Papers: The Aftermath, highlights details of offshore companies incorporated by several Indian businessmen who did not figure in the 2016 leak. These include Ajay Bijli, owner of PVR Cinemas, and members of his family; Kavin Bharti Mittal, the chief executive officer of Hike Messenger and son of Sunil Mittal, and Jalaj Ashwin Dani, son of Asian Paints promoter Ashwin Dani, The Indian Express reported.
The new documents also show that Mossack Fonseca served notices to several offshore firms set up by Indians asking them to produce missing information in 2016. These letters contained the names of the firm’s beneficial owners, or demanded that it be immediately disclosed. The most prominent Indian personality reported to have received such a notice is actor Amitabh Bachchan.
The Central Board of Direct Taxes said a Multi Agency Group had been constituted on the same day the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists had revealed the Panama Paper leak in April 2016. The group, headed by the board’s chairman, comprises representatives of the Income Tax Department, the Enforcement Directorate, Financial Intelligence Union and the Reserve Bank of India.
The ministry said the Multi Agency Group had investigated 426 clients from India and found that 353 cases were non-actionable. Among the rest, invasive action such as searches and surveys was taken in 62 cases, leading to the detection of approximately Rs 1,140 crore in undisclosed foreign investment, the press release said.
Criminal prosecution complaints have been filed in jurisdictional courts in 16 cases, which are at various stages of hearing, it said. In 32 cases, notices under Section 10 of the Black Money Act were issued.
“The investigations conducted in Panama Paper cases reflect the government’s continued focus in dealing with black money stashed abroad,” the ministry said. “The promptness in action is more than evident as most of the actionable cases have been effectively addressed. Though the investigating agencies faced problems of incomplete data and absence of financial information as well as not very prompt cooperation from other countries, the overall outcome has been very satisfactory.”