When the income tax department began tracking the phones of Kanpur-based meat exporter Moin Akhtar Qureshi at the end of December, and raided his offices and properties in mid-February, it had not expected that the BJP and the Congress would spar over this little-known businessman in the heat of the Lok Sabha poll campaign.
Even as income tax officers worked on the leads found during the raids and pursued their probe of Qureshi’s wealth, the BJP’s prime ministerial nominee Narendra Modi raised the case at an election rally in Akbarpur on April 18. “Shouldn’t the truth come out?” Modi demanded, hinting at a scandal.
Eight days later, Modi escalated his attack and alleged that conversations of persons who had “close links” with 10 Janpath, the residence of Congress president Sonia Gandhi, figured in the telephone calls intercepted by the income tax department. He also alleged that Qureshi has strong ties with 10 Janpath and other Congress leaders.
Qureshi did not respond to requests from The Indian Express for his comments for this report.
For 57-year-old Qureshi who got into business through a small abattoir in Rampur in Uttar Pradesh in 1993, the attention is as unusual as it is apparently unwelcome. Following the income tax raids, Delhi’s chatterati and bureaucracy have been abuzz with talk of his alleged links to top investigation agencies, bureaucrats and politicians. For the record, Qureshi’s daughter Pernia was married to London-based chartered accountant Ajith Prasad’s son Arjun, a close relative of Union minister of state Jitin Prasada.
A Doon school alumnus and president of its old boys’ society, Qureshi is known to have started 25 companies since 1993, with AMQ Agro, which exports animal gut, being the flagship firm. Filings with the Registrar of Companies show that seven of his companies deal in real estate and have non-descript activities with a low paid-up capital base. He is also into construction, among others, and daughter Pernia runs a fashion store.
Although some industry watchers say that Qureshi’s empire started expanding in 2005, one source said Qureshi had become a business associate of the controversial late liquor baron Ponty Chaddha in 1995. However, he is said to have fallen out of favour with Chaddha’s son Monty after Ponty’s death in 2012.
Income tax officials allege that the wealth and the lifestyle of the Qureshis, and the annual turnover of all his firms – which was under Rs 80 crore in 2012-13 – do not add up. More than two months after they raided him, his alleged undisclosed income is said to be around Rs 150 crore.
Qureshi’s first brush with controversy happened during Pernia’s wedding in February 2011. He had flown in celebrated Pakistani Sufi singer Rahat Fateh Ali Khan to entertain his guests and Khan was arrested at the airport on his way back by the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence for allegedly not disclosing that he was taking out US dollars amounting to Rs 56 lakh in cash. It was subsequently found that Khan allegedly took his fees in cash. Sources suspect that Qureshi may have come under the scanner of tax authorities after this incident.
When they finally raided him on February 15, income tax officers zeroed in on 15 locations in the NCR region and Uttar Pradesh, including three addresses in the upscale Defence Colony. One of them was a white corner house belonging to Qureshi where 15 of his firms, including AMQ Agro, are registered. Another house belonged to the mother of former CBI director A P Singh, from where Qureshi runs his office. The Doon School Old Boys Society also has an office here since Qureshi became its president two years ago.
Qureshi, in fact, is part of two of the most powerful “old boys” networks in Delhi, the Dosco and the Stephanian. These elite groups include ministers, bureaucrats, journalists and businessmen who meet at least once a month. Qureshi is a permanent invitee to all their events and he is known to occasionally host dinners and lunches for select members.
An income tax team also went to his sprawling Chattarpur farm house on a five-acre farm bought in 2002. This property was designed by renowned French architect and interior designer, Jean-Louis Deniot, and was featured on the cover of popular design magazine Elle Decor.
In fact, when the tax investigators reached the farm house, they are said to have run into Deniot there. According to the income tax returns filed by Qureshi, the farm house was designed by Deniot on a “pro-bono” basis. But his wife Nasreen was quoted in the Elle Decor article as saying that the couple had not known Deniot previously.
“She’d never actually seen any of Deniot’s work; she’d simply sat next to him at a dinner party in New York and found him charming,” the article said. “I just liked him,” she is quoted as saying in the article. “But my husband was very upset. He said, ‘He’s a French guy and he’s never been to India. What kind of house can he make?’.”