The Income Tax Department has accused members of Election Commissioner Ashok Lavasa’s family of using unaccounted cash to get a house built in Gurugram and of having cash deposits worth nearly Rs 5 lakh in bank accounts after demonetisation, The Indian Express reported on Wednesday. This is the latest in a series of allegations made by the department against Lavasa’s family members in recent months.
The latest allegations were made by the tax department in a report shared with the Department of Revenue in November 2019, the newspaper claimed.
The first allegation is related to a four-storied building in Gurugram that is jointly owned by Lavasa, his wife Novel Lavasa, his sister Shakuntala, son Abir Lavasa and daughter Avny Lavasa. Novel Lavasa has been accused by the tax department of lying on oath about not making any cash payment for the construction of the building, even though evidence showed unaccounted cash payment worth Rs 46.65 lakh.
Officials claimed to have found the evidence of the cash payment during a search, in August 2019, at the office and home of the owner of the construction firm. The evidence included an email sent by a close aide of the firm’s owner to Novel Lavasa with a breakdown of the payments she and Abir Lavasa had made in cash and through cheques. The email was corroborated from Novel Lavasa’s email account as well as details saved by her on her Google Drive, according to the report.
Further, the tax department found that payments worth Rs 16.54 lakh made to the construction firm were made by persons other than members of Lavasa’s family. Of this, Rs 9.57 lakh was paid by a man said to be Lavasa’s domestic worker.
However, Novel Lavasa told the tax department on September 9, 2019, that she had paid Rs 2.5 crore to Rs 2.7 crore for the construction only through banking channels and nothing in cash. She also denied that the domestic worker paid on the family’s behalf. But on September 25, she told the officials that he had given a “personal loan” of Rs 9.57 lakh to her son.
The report said that Abir Lavasa had not disclosed any such loan in his tax returns, nor was there any apparent need to take such loan since the mother and son had sufficient bank balance at that time. It also alleged that Novel Lavasa had made a false statement on oath about the cash payments.
The second allegation is related to a farmhouse near Karnal bought by Ashok Lavasa, his wife and son in 2011-’12. Based on a claim made by the family who sold the land to the Lavasas, the tax department said that the purchase price was Rs 95.5 lakh – but the sale deed showed the registered value of only Rs 60.5 lakh, paid by cheque. This led the tax officials to claim that the rest, around Rs 35 lakh, was paid in cash from unaccounted sources.
The third allegation is related to the bank accounts held jointly by Novel with her son, and another held by her with her daughter. These accounts received deposits worth Rs 4.93 lakh during the demonetisation period. The tax department has rejected Novel Lavasa’s defence that this was agricultural income and past savings as she “did not have adequate agricultural income” to explain the deposits, nor could she explain any other source.
Lavasa was appointed election commissioner on January 23, 2018, a year after he retired as Union finance secretary. Multiple reports in The Indian Express in the last six months have shown that Lavasa and his family members have come under the scanner of the Income Tax Department for certain transactions.
In the run-up to the General Elections last year, he disagreed, on five occasions, with the decisions of his fellow Election Commissioners to clear Prime Minister Narendra Modi and then Bharatiya Janata Party President Amit Shah in complaints of Model Code of Conduct violations made against them.
The commission cleared Modi in six such cases but Lavasa’s dissent was reportedly not noted in the poll panel’s orders. The rift in the poll body came into the open after Lavasa wrote an explosive letter saying he would stay away from the commissioners’ meetings since “minority decisions” were not being recorded.