The investigation wing of the Income Tax (I-T) department in Mumbai is planning to charge a senior Maharashtra government official under a recently amended law for allegedly owning several benami properties, including two under the Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA), sources told The Indian Express. This is the first time that tax authorities are taking recourse to laws under the Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Amendment Act, 2016, to charge a serving government official and seize properties.
The I-T department has alleged that Vikas Rasal, CEO, Mumbai Metropolitan Region Iron and Steel Market Committee, acquired at least nine properties in Maharashtra, including two SRA properties in Bandra, using “closely related fronts” at a nominal price by “coercing certain slum dwellers”.
The two SRA properties, sources said, were allegedly acquired by Rasal in 2013.
Sources said that the tax agency has found that Rasal, a provincial service officer with the state government, allegedly parked unaccounted money with jewellers and bullion traders at Vile Parle in Mumbai.
“The tax authority is also probing city-based bullion traders connected to Rasal. There is suspicion that a significant portion of this black money came from bribes. The agency has got hold of persons with whom Rasal parked his black money,” said sources.
On July 7, the tax department intercepted Rasal and seized over Rs 50 lakh from him at the Mumbai airport, while he was travelling from Delhi to Mumbai allegedly with undisclosed cash, said sources. The seizure was followed by raids at his office and residence in Mumbai, they said.
According to sources, the tax department has recovered at least Rs 65 lakh in cash, jewellery worth Rs 50 lakh and documents allegedly linked to several benami properties from the residence of Rasal.
The I-T department has alleged that Rasal amassed real estate in Mumbai, Navi Mumbai, Pune and Undale in Maharashtra using black money. Rasal was due for promotion to IAS cadre, said another source familiar with the probe.
Rasal’s mobile phone has been seized by the I-T department. When The Indian Express contacted Rasal’s family members, they declined to comment on the probe. “Neither Rasal nor we want to comment on the issue,” said a family member.
Violations of the stringent Benami Act attracts seven years in prison and a hefty fine. A transaction is considered benami, or nameless, when a property is transferred to or is held by a person and the money for purchase has been provided or paid by another person.
Rasal is currently in charge of the largest iron and steel market in Asia at Kalamboli. He was earlier the divisional joint registrar of cooperatives societies for Mumbai and suburban districts. At the time, he had initiated a survey of cooperative societies in the state to identify those that existed only on paper.