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Pandora Papers: MGF’s Shravan Gupta owned BVI firm, JV with Emaar got $2 million

Gupta was the beneficial owner of a company in BVI where its Finance Ministry issued two notices after his name surfaced in the HSBC Bank (Geneva) list of Indian account holders.

Written by Shyamlal Yadav | New Delhi |
Updated: October 8, 2021 7:47:39 am
An Express investigation into the Pandora Papers reveals how individuals and businesses are pushing the envelope to evade detection, using loopholes in the law at home and the lax jurisdiction of tax havens.

In 2007, within two years of the merger of Dubai-based Emaar and Shravan Gupta-owned MGF, a British Virgin Islands (BVI) firm invested USD 2 million in the joint venture, according to the Pandora Papers.

Gupta was the beneficial owner of a company in BVI where its Finance Ministry issued two notices after his name surfaced in the HSBC Bank (Geneva) list of Indian account holders.

A resolution on Asiatrust Limited, provided by AsiaCiti Trust, shows that in 2007, Zala Holdings Limited (ZHL), BVI, invested 2 million USD in Emaar MGF with ANI Capital Holdings India Limited, Cayman Islands. ZHL’s 100 per cent shareholding was owned by Churchill Trust, Cook Islands. Asiatrust Limited, also based in the Cook Islands, was trustee of the Churchill Trust.

Gupta is facing cases in India. His name, along with that of his wife Shilpa, was found in the HSBC (Geneva) list of Indian account holders released in early 2015. There was a total balance of 33.8 million in their accounts as of 2006-07.

Now, documents of the BVI chapter of the Panamanian law firm Alcogal (Aleman, Cordero, Galindo & Lee) show that Gupta was the UBO (Ultimate Beneficial Owner) of Itasca International Limited, BVI, incorporated on July 1, 2009.

Shareholders in Itasca International Limited, BVI, included The Amrita Trust, Switzerland. Alcogal was the “first registered agent” for the company. Itasca was dissolved in 2013.

Gupta is the man behind real estate development firm Emaar MGF. Dubai-based Emaar Properties entered India in 2005 and invested about Rs 8,500 crore in the real estate market through its joint venture Emaar MGF. But Emaar and Gupta’s MGF decided to part ways on April 11, 2016 — over a year after Gupta and his wife were found in the HSBC (Geneva) list.

In fact, when Itasca was incorporated, Fernando A Gil, a Panamanian citizen, was its sole director. On November 2, 2009, Gil issued a share certificate for 50,000 shares of Itasca of USD 1 each in favour of The Amrita Trust, Switzerland. Alcogal had categorised Gupta as “PEP” (politically exposed person) as well.

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Within a year of the HSBC list being made public, on February 1, 2016, the International Tax Authority (ITA), under the Ministry of Finance of the BVI, issued notice to Alcogal to produce “Register of shareholders and directors of the company (Itasca)” and “details of beneficial owners of the company along with customer due diligence documents.” Another notice was sent on February 29, 2016, to provide “description of the business activities of the company”.

In response to the first notice, Alcogal on February 15, 2016, said: “The beneficial owner of the company is Mr Shravan Gupta.” It also said: “We have requested customer due diligence documents to our client. We will provide them once received.”

To the second notice, Alcogal informed ITA on March 18, 2016, that “based on the information provided to us by our intermediary client, the company (Itasca) was used to hold bank accounts.” Within a month of the last response, on April 11, 2016, Emaar and MGF decided to part ways.

On December 15, 2018, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) seized Gupta’s assets worth Rs 10.28 crore in lieu of assets held abroad. The ED said that as per its investigation, Gupta held USD 1.54 million in his bank account maintained with HSBC, Switzerland.

On February 8 this year, Gupta’s former joint venture partner Emaar filed an FIR in Gurugram against him, his wife and five associates for allegedly cheating Emaar of nearly Rs 180 crore through an illegal land deal. The FIR alleged that Gupta, who was the former MD of the joint venture Emaar MGF, had also cheated Haryana’s Department of Town and Country Planning (DTCP) with “unfair transfer” of land parcels using “forged documents”.

Gupta and his wife did not respond to queries from The Indian Express.

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