Records reviewed by The Indian Express show that soon after Amitabh Bachchan was appointed director, one of the four companies, Tramp Shipping Limited (Bahamas), acquired a ship from another Bahamas company, co-owned by his brother Ajitabh Bachchan, in 1994.
Earlier, the ship, MV Nile Delta, was owned by Nile Shipping Ltd, one of four offshore shipping companies set up during 1990-91 by Ajitabh Bachchan in partnership with late Mehernoosh Khajotia and London-based lawyer Sarosh Zaiwalla.
While Amitabh Bachchan did not respond to queries about the acquisition, Ajitabh Bachchan in an email said: “I have been an NRI since 1986 for about 20 years. I was involved in a perfectly legitimate shipping business in the early ‘90s. My brother Amitabh Bachchan had nothing to do with my shipping business.”
While Ajitabh Bachchan is said to have invested US $15 million as seed capital and Khajotia looked after the business, lawyer Zaiwalla was instrumental in bringing the partners together.
In an email interview, Zaiwalla confirmed the partnership in which he said he had 20 per cent stake while Ajitabh Bachchan and Khajotia held 40 per cent each.
“I was informed by Ajitabh that the source of the US $15 million was Bachchans’ own family wealth. I had assumed that both the brothers invested the money but I had not at that time specifically asked Ajitabh if what were said to be Bachchan family funds belonged to both Amitabh and Ajitabh’s families or they simply belonged to Ajitabh’s family,” said Zaiwalla.
Asked about his association with Ajitabh Bachchan, Zaiwalla said: “My (law) firm was instructed by Ajitabh Bachchan to commence libel proceedings against the Swedish Newspaper Dagens Nyheter… the libel actions related to allegations concerning the Bofors gun deal.”
Zaiwalla added that he was answering the queries from The Indian Express “for Indian Public good. only after being satisfied that legal professional privilege would not apply” as neither him nor his firm acted as lawyers for Delta.
Taronesh Khajotia, son of the late Mehernoosh Khajotia, did not respond to multiple emails, phone calls and messages.
With US $15 million invested by the Bachchan family and subsequent bank loans, the partners bought three ships in 1991. These were MV Lokris (later named Avon Delta and held by Avon Shipping Ltd); MV Nile Delta (held by Nile Shipping Ltd), and MV Ganges Delta (held by Ganges Shipping Ltd).
These three Bahamas companies were owned by another Bahamas company, Delta Shipping Company Ltd, which, in turn, was owned by two holding companies: Maxwell Holdings Ltd and Mattz Holdings.
According to Zaiwalla, Ajitabh Bachchan asked him to retire from the partnership some months after the third ship, MV Ganges Delta, was purchased in 1991.
In 1993, according to Mossack Fonseca records, four shipping companies were set up in the Bahamas and British Virgin Islands where Amitabh Bachchan served as director. One of these companies, Tramp Shipping, acquired MV Nile Delta in 1994 and renamed it MV Sea Delta.
Nile Shipping was dissolved soon after Tramp acquired the ship.
All shares issued by Tramp Shipping were held by Sea Bulk Shipping Company (BVI), another company where Amitabh Bachchan served as director.
In December 1994, Khajotia’s firm Constellation Ship Management (Bahamas) took a loan of USD 1.75 million from Dallah Albaraka Investment Company (DAICO) to buy all shares of Tramp from Sea Bulk.
For the loan, Constellation mortgaged Tramp Shipping’s property MV Sea Tramp. As reported by The Indian Express on April 21, Amitabh Bachchan, as per records, attended the board meetings of Tramp and Sea Bulk to authorise this 1994 deal.
On April 20, Amitabh Bachchan’s publicist issued a statement. It said: “On the Panama disclosures, I wish to state that queries continue to be sent to me by the media. I would humbly request them to kindly direct these to the GOI (Government of India) where I, as a law abiding citizen have already sent, and shall continue to send, my responses. I stand by my earlier statement on the ‘misuse of my name’ in the matter and in any event the press reports do not disclose any illegal act committed by me.”
The Panama Papers refer to the more than 11 million documents leaked from the secret files of Mossack Fonseca, a law firm headquartered in tax haven Panama, known for its factory-like production of offshore companies in tax havens around the world, for its worldwide clientele of the well-heeled.