Acting on information of alleged investments in shell companies and benami deals worth over Rs 1,000 crore, the Income Tax department on Tuesday conducted searches and surveys on at least 22 locations in Delhi and adjoining areas allegedly linked to RJD chief Lalu Prasad.
Searches were carried out at the residential premises of 12 persons linked to the case while surveys were conducted at 10 office premises associated with the companies being investigated by the department, a senior tax official said.
Speaking on the sidelines of an event in the capital, Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said, “People in high positions acquiring assets through shell companies is not a small matter. The day of reckoning has come for many. They all will be accountable.”
The tax official said that the searches and surveys were conducted following an investigation of the investment pattern in “shell companies”.
“We are carrying out the searches and surveys. the companies being probed are shell companies in which Lalu and his family members are directors or have some link. The 12 people who are being searched also are directly or indirectly related to investments in these shell companies,” the official alleged.
Officials said the 12 included Vijay Kochar, Vinay Kochar, Ajay Kochar, Amit Katyal, Vivek Nagpal and Subhash Goel, some of whom they described as “prominent businessmen and real estate agents”.
The department is likely to invoke provisions of the newly-enacted Benami Transactions Act, 1988, which became operational from November 1 last year and carries a maximum punishment of seven years in jail and a fine. The action under this new law will be over and above the legal proceedings under the Income Tax Act, 1961, officials said.
Tax officials said the findings from the searches and surveys will be known only in the next few days.
Reacting to the searches, RJD chief Prasad posted on his official Twitter account that he was “not scared at all” and will continue to fight against “fascist forces”.
“BJP mein himmat nahin hai ki Lalu ki awaz ko daba sake… Lalu ki awaz dabayenge to desh bhar me karoron Lalu khade ho jayenge…(BJP does not have the courage to stifle my voice… If it tries to silence one Lalu, crores of Lalus will rise across the country),” he wrote in a series of tweets.
Asked about Opposition claims that the government was misusing its authority, Finance Minister Jaitley said, “In the Finance Ministry, the Revenue Department or the CBDT, all actions which are taken are under the proceedings of the Income-tax Act…I can only give a general statement. Unless there is a substantial basis or a reason to suspect that either there is evasion or a crime has been committed, these departments don’t act. Because ultimately, whatever action they have taken, it has to bear some results.”
The income tax raids follow allegations of financial irregularities levelled by the BJP last week. The BJP had accused Lalu Prasad, his parliamentarian daughter Misa Bharti and his two sons Tejashwi and Tej Pratap, both Bihar government ministers, of being involved in corrupt land deals worth over Rs 1,000 crore, and asked the central government to probe one such transaction in Delhi.
Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had alleged that these transactions were a case of “quid pro quo” as they date back to the period when Lalu was the railway minister. Lalu’s official residence was the address of the owners of the firms allegedly floated by his family members, Prasad had claimed.
Officials said the searches and surveys started on Tuesday morning and were conducted by a team of around 100 officials. In Delhi, the tax department teams also visited areas in New Friends Colony and Sainik Farms, and a few farmhouses in Bijwasan and in south Delhi, they said.
Some documents and computer hardware have been seized from these premises, the officials said.