INDIAN NATIONALS investigated by various agencies in India, including CBI, for alleged financial crimes and links to opaque offshore entities figure on a global database of those connected to properties in over 20 prime real estate projects in Dubai.
The database was accessed by The Indian Express in partnership with the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), an international investigative reporting platform formed by 40 non-profit investigative centres, and journalists and regional organisations. The entries were investigated by around 50 media groups in as many countries.
The database also includes the names of at least 20 Indian nationals who have featured on a list of those who set up offshore entities in tax havens investigated by The Indian Express — Offshore Leaks, Swiss Leaks, Panama Papers and Paradise Papers — in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).
Of the 129,000 entries in the Dubai database from 181 countries, those of Indians form a sizeable chunk with 5,800 linked to properties in top sites such as the Palm Jumeirah, The World, Motor City, Emirates Living, Dubai Marina, Burj Dubai, Old Town Island, etc. Most of these Indians are long-term residents of Dubai, with many having lived outside India for more than a generation.
According to Indian laws, it is not illegal for Indians to own property in Dubai. As per the Foreign Exchange Management Act of 1999, resident and non-resident Indians are allowed to own immovable properties abroad. Similarly, Dubai, one of the seven emirates and the largest city in the UAE, does not bar foreigners from buying property in the country.
However, the Indians on the database include some who have been investigated or charged by various agencies for crimes including hawala transactions, match-fixing scandals, money laundering, and links to one of India’s most wanted men, Dawood Ibrahim.
According to the official website of the Indian Embassy in UAE: “The Indian community in UAE, numbering 2.6 million, constitutes 30 per cent of the total population. It is the largest expatriate community in the country.”
ON THE DATABASE, UNDER THE SCANNER
Arshad Ahemad Siddiqui
Linked to one property in The Residences, Emaar
Siddiqui is the son of former BSP MP Iliyas Azmi. The address listed for Siddiqui in the database is the same listed for several companies owned by him in Mumbai. In 2005, a Dawood Ibrahim aide, Jamiruddin Ansari, allegedly linked Siddiqui to the wanted gangster and was questioned by Mumbai Crime Branch. Last year, Siddiqui was investigated by the Enforcement Directorate on whether he helped former Maharashtra Minister Chhagan Bhujbal allegedly “acquire property through proxy” on Marine Drive in Mumbai.
Siddiqui did not respond to emails or calls to his office and the number mentioned in the Dubai database.
When contacted, Siddiqui’s father, Iliyas Azmi, said it is Siddiqui’s son who stays in Dubai. Asked about Bhujbal, Azmi said: “Bhujbal is my friend. The ED had investigated the link with Bhujbal but now it is over.” On the case involving Dawood, Azmi said, “Everything has been investigated. It has been over for a while now.”
Bhujbal was granted bail in May by the Bombay High Court in a money laundering case. When contacted, his lawyer Sajal Yadav said Bhujbal was “not linked to Siddiqui”, and had not been questioned by any agency in this connection.
Anil Adinath Bastawade
Linked to a property in Emirates Living, The Lakes
In 2015, the ED claimed that Bastawade helped Bhujbal make “benami investments” in a coal mine in Indonesia. Bastawade had earlier been arrested in 2013 on suspicion that he was the alleged “money agent” for former Jharkhand Chief Minister Madhu Koda in a Rs 2,500-crore money laundering scam.
Bhujbal’s lawyer Sajal Yadav said the politician was “not linked” to Bastawade and owns “no property in Dubai or Indonesia directly”. Yadav said Bhujbal’s nephew, Sameer Bhujbal, had invested in a mine in Indonesia with “RBI permission through proper channels”.
Koda, who was jailed in a coal scam case, said he had no links to Bastawade. “I have nothing to do with him,” he said.
Linked to four properties in Ridge Towers and Lake Hotel in Burj Dubai, and Dubai Investment Park
Kochhar and his wife Veena own a company named Rich Rice in UAE. Kochhar’s name surfaced in a match-fixing scandal in 2007 when his calls to West Indian cricketer Marlon Samuels were recorded by police. In the same year, he was investigated by ED and the CBI for alleged illegal export over 60,000 tonnes of rice from India. The case relating to the export is ongoing. Kochhar did not respond to emails sent to the ID listed in the Dubai database.
Linked to at least two properties — in Motor City and Old Town Island
A Dubai-based jeweller, Parekh has links to Kolkata, where his family owned Shree Ganesh Jewellers. Parekh’s brother Nilesh Parekh was arrested a year ago for allegedly cheating a consortium of banks worth Rs 2,200 crore. The CBI filed an FIR against them in 2016. Nilesh was arrested in 2017, and the case is ongoing.
Parekh’s lawyer Zulfiquar Memon said: “The Dubai properties have been acquired almost 13 years ago and are on loan with RAK bank for the total tenure of 25 years. These properties have been bought by our client in his capacity as an NRI and as a businessman in Dubai and are all officially declared.”
Regarding the case, Memon said Parekh is “neither an absconder nor wanted by the Indian Government” and “has not fled from India” and is thus “within his rights to choose when to come to India”. Parekh “has no role to play” in the case being investigated by the CBI, he said.
“In a petition filed by him in Kolkata High Court, the Court was pleased to allow him to join the investigation as he is merely a shareholder in the company and holds no executive role. We have written a letter to the CBI to that effect and will be happy to cooperate with the investigation, as and when needed. His name is not on the list of absconders or wanted accused. He is a respectable businessman and has nothing to do with this case,” he said.
Gurjit Singh Kochar
Owns two properties in Tall Tower, Burj Dubai, and Meadows, Emirates Living
Kochar is the son-in-law of Gurdeep Singh Chadha, alias Ponty Chadha, the former liquor baron and founder of the Wave group who was killed in a shootout with his brother in Delhi in November 2012. Kochar’s family owns the Al Mehtab Group in Dubai — the database includes emails of the Al Mehtab group for Kochar’s properties. Kochar is a director in Wave Megacity Centre Pvt Ltd in Delhi. He was one of the several Indians named by Swiss authorities among those with offshore accounts in the country. In 2015, the Income Tax department had also investigated whether he had helped Chadha route black money abroad.
Kochar did not respond to emails sent to the ID mentioned in the database. When contacted, Ravi Sodhi, director, Corporate Communications, Wave Group, said Kochar “is an NRI and has no financial dealings with us”.
Raman Pillai Raghu Adeekalathu
Linked to a property in Tall Tower, Burj Dubai
Known as Madathil Raghu, this businessman’s house in Kochi was raided by the Income Tax department in 2016. I-T officials said they were tracking flow of money from Abu Dhabi to a company named Agrritho International Pvt Ltd in Delhi. Two of the directors of the company included Jayakrishnan Kunnangath and Mini Nair, the son-in-law and daughter of TKA Nair, principal secretary to former prime minister Manmohan Singh.
Raghu did not respond to several messages and calls made to the Dubai mobile number listed in the database.
Manoj Kewalram Jagtiani
Linked to a property in Lake Hotel, Burj Dubai
Jagtiani owns an aviation business in Nigeria. In 2014, he was named in a case against the former chief of the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency, Nnamdi Udoh, by Nigerian law enforcement agencies. Jagtiani was accused of helping Udoh misappropriate billions of Nairas using front companies. His email mentioned in the database against the property owned by him is for MAC Nigeria, the company he owned.
Jagtiani did not respond to emails sent to the ID listed in the Dubai database.