Seven months after The Indian Express published the Panama Papers, the probe into alleged tax violations by Indians named in the global expose has become the largest offshore inquiry initiated in the country. So far, 415 Indians are under scrutiny as part of the Panama Papers probe.
New Delhi has already sent 198 references to 13 jurisdictions which house offshore entities owned by Indians named in the Panama Papers. These include the British Virgin Islands (BVI), Bahamas, Luxembourg, Jersey, Seychelles, Switzerland and Cyprus — it has been done under provisions of tax treaties signed with these countries.
The number of references sent via the Foreign Tax and Tax Research (FTTR) division of the Ministry of Finance stood at 91 in July and the number of Indians under scrutiny then was 297.
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The largest number of references have been sent by Income Tax (Investigation) units in New Delhi, Mumbai and Hyderabad.
The Special Taskforce, constituted by the government immediately after publication of the Panama Papers in April, is learnt to have informed the Special Investigation Team (SIT) on black money that the FTTR references sent to the BVI for details of offshore entities of Indians set up by Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca is the highest by any country — almost half the 210,000 offshore entities listed in the Panama Papers data were incorporated in the BVI.
The Panama Papers was the largest collaborative investigative project jointly published by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and Suddeutsche Zeitung and over 100 media organisations. The leaked data contains 11.5 million documents with details of offshore entities set up by Mossack Fonseca over 40 years, including details of entities set up by over 500 Indian nationals.
While The Indian Express confirmed the identities and addresses of around 300 Indians, the ICIJ subsequently released structured data of all 210,000 offshore entities but only put out details like the name of the entity, names of beneficial owners and so on.
Members of the multi-agency taskforce, headed by the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT), have informed the government that of the 415 Indians — 71 are NRIs — under their scanner in the Panama Papers case, 184 have admitted that they incorporated the offshore entities listed against their names. Of the 415, 70 have been shown by CBDT as “not traceable”.
As part of the probe, the Income Tax (Investigation) wing has so far conducted searches at the premises of nine persons named in the data and carried out surveys in the case of another 14.