Centre announces probe into Pandora Papers as top businessmen, celebrities appear in list

By Express News Service

NEW DELHI: A day after the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) reported that 380 Indians have undeclared offshore assets, the Centre on Monday announced a multi-agency probe led by the CBDT.

“The government has taken note of these developments. The relevant investigative agencies would undertake an investigation in these cases and appropriate action would be taken in such cases as per law. The government will also proactively engage with foreign jurisdictions for obtaining information in respect of relevant taxpayers,” the finance ministry said.

On Sunday, the ICIJ involving had released a 2.94 terabyte data trove, based on 12 million leaked documents linked to wealthy elites from over 200 countries.

The list, dubbed the Pandora Papers, contains top political leaders, industrialists, celebrities and sportspersons who have parked assets worth millions offshore to evade detection in their own country.

The ICIJ list is based on confidential records of 14 offshore service providers that give professional services to wealthy individuals and corporations seeking to incorporate shell companies, trusts, foundations and other entities in low or no-tax jurisdictions.

Two earlier investigations by the ICIJ,  Panama Papers and Paradise Papers resulted in the detection of Rs 20,352 crore as of September 2021, the finance ministry statement added. 

Anil Ambani, Vinod Adani, Jackie Shroff, Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, Niira Radia, Sachin Tendulkar and Satish Sharma are among the Indians who figure in the ‘Pandora Papers’ that comprise 11.9 million confidential documents from 14 separate legal and financial services firms.

“The Government has taken note of these developments. The relevant investigative agencies would undertake an investigation in these cases and appropriate action would be taken in such cases as per law,” the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) said.

With a view to ensure effective investigation in these cases, the government will also “proactively engage with foreign jurisdictions for obtaining information in respect of relevant taxpayers/entities.”

The statement neither named any individual it would investigate nor gave a timeline for completing the probe.

“The Government has directed today that, investigations in cases of Pandora Papers leaks will be monitored through the Multi Agency Group, headed by the Chairman, CBDT, having representatives from CBDT, ED, RBI and FIU,” it said.

The Government of India, it said, is also part of an inter-governmental group that ensures collaboration and experience sharing to effectively address tax risks associated with such leaks.

A couple of Indian names appearing in the papers have rejected allegations of financial misdoing.

Biocon Executive Chairperson Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw said her husband’s offshore trust was bonafide and legitimate.

“Media stories reporting on Pandora Papers wrongly implicate my husband’s offshore trust, which is a bonafide, legitimate trust and is managed by Independent Trustees. No Indian resident holds “the key” to the trust as alleged in these stories,” she tweeted.

CBDT said the International Consortium of International Journalists (ICIJ) has come out with what is claimed to be a 2.

94 terabyte data trove that exposes the offshore secrets of wealthy elites from more than 200 countries and territories.

The investigation is based on a leak of confidential records of 14 offshore service providers that give professional services to wealthy individuals and corporations seeking to incorporate shell companies, trusts, foundations and other entities in low or no-tax jurisdictions.

“It may be noted that following earlier similar such leaks in the form of ICIJ, HSBC, Panama Papers and Paradise Papers, the Government has already enacted the Black Money (Undisclosed Foreign Income and Assets) and Imposition of Tax Act, 2015 with an aim to curb black money, or undisclosed foreign assets and income by imposing suitable tax and penalty on such income,” the tax department said.

Undisclosed credits of Rs 20,352 crore (as on September 15, 2021) have been detected in the investigations carried out in the Panama and Paradise Papers.

Stating that the media outlets part of the ‘Pandora Papers’ investigation have carried names of “only a few Indians (legal entities as well as individuals)” so far, CBDT said even the ICIJ website (www.icij.org) has not yet released the names and other particulars of all the entities.

The website of ICIJ suggests that information will be released in phases and structured data connected to the Pandora Papers investigation will be released only in the days to come on its Offshore Leaks Database, it added.

Rights group Oxfam India has called for immediate action by authorities and abolishing tax havens following the expose of the ‘Pandora Papers’.

“Tax havens cost governments around the world USD 427 billion each year. Developing countries are being hardest hit, proportionately. Corporations and the wealthiest individuals that use tax havens are out-competing those who don’t. Tax havens also help crime and corruption to flourish,” Oxfam India CEO Amitabh Behar said.

Abolishing tax havens can go a long way towards ensuring that governments actually has the access to tax revenue they need to fund quality public expenditure, he added.

Many of the people whose names have come out in the ‘Pandora Papers’ have rejected financial misdoings.

Among others, Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw on Monday said her hubsand’s offshore trust was bonafide and legitimate.

“Media stories reporting on Pandora Papers wrongly implicate my husband’s offshore trust, which is a bonafide, legitimate trust and is managed by Independent Trustees. No Indian resident holds “the key” to the trust as alleged in these stories,” Mazumdar-Shaw, the executive chairperson of biotechnology major Biocon, said in a tweet.

The ICIJ involves at least 150 media outlets worldwide, including ‘The Indian Express’ in India and claims to have obtained as many as 12 million documents from 14 companies in offshore tax havens.

“People linked by the secret documents to offshore assets include India’s cricket superstar Sachin Tendulkar, pop music diva Shakira, supermodel Claudia Schiffer and an Italian mobster known as ‘Lell the Fat One’,” ICIJ said in its report, which was first published on October 3.

“Tendulkar’s attorney said the cricket player’s investment is legitimate and has been declared to tax authorities. Shakira’s attorney said the singer declared her companies, which the attorney said do not provide tax advantages. Schiffer’s representatives said the supermodel correctly pays her taxes in the UK, where she lives,” it noted.

The ‘Pandora Papers’ have uncovered financial secrets of current and former world leaders, politicians and public officials in 91 countries and territories.

On a world map highlighting the number of politicians linked with offshore dealings, India is shown as having six and Pakistan seven.

According to ICIJ, its secret documents expose offshore dealings of the likes of the King of Jordan, the presidents of Ukraine, Kenya and Ecuador, the Prime Minister of the Czech Republic and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

The files also reveal the financial activities of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “unofficial minister of propaganda” and more than 130 billionaires from Russia, the US, Turkey and other nations.

(With PTI Inputs)