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Lavasas paid Rs 46 lakh cash for house, used help’s bank account: I-T

In the last six months, Ashok Lavasa's wife Novel Singhal Lavasa, an ex-banker, sister Shakuntala Lavasa, a paediatrician, and son Abir Lavasa have been served I-T notices.

Written by Ritika Chopra | New Delhi |
Updated: February 5, 2020 8:08:34 am
Ashok Lavasa, election Commission, Novel Lavasa, money laundering, corruption, Ashok Lavasa, Ashok Lavasa family, ashok lavasa ed probe, ashok lavasa son, Abir Lavasa, Indian Express As one of the three ECs, Ashok Lavasa, on five occasions, opposed the clean chit given to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and former BJP president Amit Shah (File/Express Photo by Renuka Puri)

Cash deposits amounting to Rs 4.93 lakh after demonetisation; Rs 46.65 lakh paid in cash for construction of a building in Gurgaon; a payment of Rs 9.57 lakh to the builder routed through the bank account of a domestic help — these are the allegations in a report of the Income Tax (I-T) Department on complaints of tax evasion by members of the family of Election Commissioner (EC) Ashok Lavasa.

In the last six months, his wife Novel Singhal Lavasa, an ex-banker, sister Shakuntala Lavasa, a paediatrician, and son Abir Lavasa have been served I-T notices.

As one of the three ECs, Ashok Lavasa, on five occasions, opposed the clean chit given to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and former BJP president Amit Shah on charges of violating the Model Code of Conduct during the Lok Sabha elections.

The latest report of the I-T Department was shared with the Department of Revenue in November 2019, The Indian Express has learnt.

P C Mody, chairman of the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT), did not respond to questions on whether any action has been taken on the allegations in the report. Ashok Lavasa, Novel Lavasa and Abir Lavasa did not respond to questions shared via email.

The report focuses on investments by the Lavasa family in two properties — a four-storied building in Gurgaon owned jointly by Ashok Lavasa, sister Shakuntala, wife Novel, son Abir and daughter Avny; and, a farmhouse near Karnal held by the Election Commissioner, his wife and son.

Election Commissioner Ashok Lavasa

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On August 22, 2019, the I-T Department searched the office and home of Satya Priya Tyagi, proprietor of Rupali Constructions that built the four-storied building in Gurgaon. According to the report, evidence in the shape of handwritten diaries, loose sheets, emails and WhatsApp messages seized during the search show that members of the Lavasa family allegedly paid Rs 46.65 lakh in cash to Tyagi and his close associate N K Sharma for the construction.
Novel Lavasa, in her statement recorded with the I-T Department on September 9, 2019, denied making payments in cash. She said she had paid Rs 2.5 crore to 2.7 crore only through banking channels. When contacted, Tyagi said: “I have given my statement to the I-T Department.” He confirmed Sharma works with him.

The I-T Department has cited an email sent by Sharma to Novel Lavasa that gives a break-up of payments made in cash and through cheques by Novel and Abir for the property. The same email, the report states, was also found in Novel’s Gmail account. When summoned by the I-T Department, Sharma confirmed that his email reflected payments in cash as well as through cheques by the Lavasa family.

The I-T Department also examined Novel’s Google drive, which had JPEG images of handwritten calculations of payments made towards the construction of the Gurgaon property. Some entries mentioned in JPEG images matched with the break-up of payments in Sharma’s email (also found in Novel’s inbox). The report goes on to conclude that Novel gave a false statement under oath as there is evidence of unaccounted cash payments amounting to Rs 46,65,112.

The I-T report also points out that payments to the builder were made by persons other than members of the Lavasa family. According to Sharma’s email, such payments amounted to Rs 16.54 lakh.

Of this, Rs 9.57 lakh was paid by Subhash Mahto, who is described as “domestic helper of Shri Ashok Lavasa” in the report. In her statement recorded on September 9, 2019, Novel denied that Mahto had made any payment on the family’s behalf. However, on September 25, 2019, she informed the department that Mahto had extended a personal loan of Rs 9.57 lakh to her son Abir.

The report adds that Abir hasn’t disclosed this loan in his Income Tax Return (ITR) for any year. The report says that there was sufficient bank balance in Novel and Abir’s accounts on the dates when Mahto made payments amounting to Rs 9.57 lakh. “Thus there was no business need to take any loans,” the report states.

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For the agricultural land near Karnal purchased jointly by Ashok Lavasa, his wife and son in 2011-12 from Ombiri Devi, the I-T Department has said that approximately Rs 35 lakh was paid in cash by the Lavasa family. The report points to statements of Vishesh Tomar (son of Ombiri Devi) and Kanwar Pal Singh Tomar (husband of Ombiri Devi) who have said the land was sold for Rs 35 lakh to 40 lakh per acre and the sale amount was received in cheque and cash. The report concludes the land was sold for Rs 95.5 lakh (at 35 lakh per acre). Since the sale deed shows the registered value of the transaction as Rs 60.5 lakh (paid by cheque), the I-T Department alleges that the difference of approximately Rs 34 lakh was paid in cash from unaccounted sources.

According to the department, bank accounts held jointly by Novel with her son and another with her daughter reflect cumulative deposits of Rs 4.93 lakh during the demonetisation period. In her recorded statement, Novel attributed this to agricultural income and past savings. The I-T Department rejected this, saying that her ITR from 2014-15 to 2018-19 show Rs 5,846 as agricultural income. “Thus she did not have adequate agricultural income to explain deposit of cash in her accounts. She also could not explain any other source/savings to account for cash deposits,” the report states.

The report alludes to Abir Lavasa’s directorship at Nourish Organic Foods Private Ltd being an “undue benefit” arising out of Ashok Lavasa’s posting in Power and Environment ministries from September 2009 to December 2013 and from August 2014 to April 2016, respectively.

The report says Seema Jajodia, who is “connected to the Monnet Ispat Group” that had “interests” in Environment and Power ministries, quit as director from Nourish within two months of Abir’s joining, thereby giving him a larger role in the company. Seema Jajodia was married to the promoter of the Monnet Ispat Group Sandeep Jajodia. They were divorced in March 2016.

When contacted Monday, Sandeep Jajodia told The Indian Express that he has no connection with Nourish Organic Foods and has “never had any connection (with) them in any capacity”.
Seema Jajodia said she hasn’t had anything to do with the Monnet Ispat Group for “many years”, especially after her divorce in 2016.

“I hired Abir (Lavasa for Nourish Organic Foods) based on his qualifications and talent. I didn’t even know whose son he was (then). I met Mr Ashok Lavasa in Nehru Park once while walking, as I have met many many other IAS officers and all who go for a walk in the morning there. I have no knowledge of Mr Lavasa’s postings or have anything to do with him,” she said.

The report states that in October 2018, Abir was allotted 10,000 shares of Nourish Organic Foods Private Ltd below the market value at Rs 10 per share when he was appointed director in November 2017. Abir, the I-T Department says, accepted that shares were allotted to him below the market price and paid self-assessment tax of Rs 3,94,200 on September 7, 2019. The report alleges that Abir received Rs 50,000 as remuneration in cash every month “over and above the cheque component of Rs 1 lakh” and a director with Nourish Organic Foods has corroborated this in his statement recorded with the I-T Department.

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