A year and a half into its probe, the Income Tax Department has launched its first set of prosecutions in the Panama Papers investigations. The probe began days after The Indian Express , along with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung, published the Panama Papers. Until date, 424 Indians named in the data on offshore entities set up by Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca have been under the scanner.
Top officials of the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) told The Indian Express that they have now taken a major step forward and have launched prosecution in five cases in different courts in the country. Officials said that these are cases where the IT Department was simultaneously conducting proceedings for tax violations but against whom sufficient evidence has been received from among 13 foreign jurisdictions. This confirms the existence of the off-shore entity and of holdings and bank accounts held by the company or Trust.
The prosecutions have been filed under various sections of the Income Tax Act for alleged tax evasion; non declaration of off-shore assets and for giving false statements to the Department.
Officials pointed out that provisions of the Black Money (undisclosed foreign income and assets) Act 2015 could be invoked later.
They declined to give details of the prosecutions launched but said that more such cases would shortly be filed in different courts.
Meanwhile, since the last update given by the CBDT to the Multi Agency Group (MAG) earlier this year, the strike rate of the Department in receiving replies from foreign jurisdictions like the British Virgin Islands (BVI), Cyprus and Seychelles has gone up.
While at the beginning of the year (The Indian Express, March 16, 2017) the number of requests sent by India stood at 283 cases, it has now crossed 300. And while the number of replies received from among these 13 jurisdictions stood at 165, that figure has now crossed 240.
Significantly, officials said, that among these 240 cases, the IT Department has decided to concentrate on a list of 70 “actionable” cases connected to the Panama Papers.
Since the publication of the Panama Papers, the IT investigation wings have already conducted around 30 searches and 15 surveys (on business premises) of persons named in the Mossack Fonseca off-shore data and as the inputs and transaction details of the holdings of off-shore entities is further scrutinized, this number could go up further.