Nearly a year after The Indian Express published the Panama Papers, tax authorities have succeeded in obtaining 165 replies — partial or complete — from among 13 jurisdictions where Indian nationals had incorporated offshore companies through the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca. According to data made available at the latest meeting of the Multi Agency Group (MAG) last month, the number of Indian clients of Mossack Fonseca, whose PAN numbers had been traced, has swelled to 424. Of these, 205 have accepted links to offshore entities named in the global expose. However, 60 other Indians named in the Panama Papers remain untraced.
The MAG, comprising officials of CBDT, RBI, Financial Intelligence Unit and ED, was set up last year to ensure a “speedy and coordinated” probe against Indians whose names have figured in the Panama Papers for allegedly holding bank accounts in foreign nations. Until last month, Indian tax authorities, through the Foreign Tax and Tax Research (FTTR) division of the Ministry of Finance, sent 283 references to 13 offshore jurisdictions asking for incorporation, investment and bank account details of entities linked to Indian nationals. This marks a steady rise in the number of references sent by India — from 91 within July 2016 to 198 by October 2016.
Of the 283 references, only in 17 cases were “defects” found in requests sent by the Indian authorities. They are now likely to be sent again. Officials in the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) told The Indian Express that scrutiny of data received from jurisdictions such as Cyprus, British Virgin Islands (BVI), Seychelles and Jersey are quite “substantial” in a few cases. In several other cases, officials said, foreign counterparts have replied that the offshore entities under focus may have been struck off and ceased to exist.
Officials said the largest number of “satisfactory replies” have been received from BVI. Officials are currently drafting guidelines for all units handling the Panama Papers cases to move to the next stage of investigations based on information received from abroad. The latest figures have been shared with all officials attending meetings of the MAG, which was set up by the government on the day The Indian Express published its first series of reports on the Panama Papers on April 4, 2016.
The Panama Papers is an investigative project jointly pursued by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and Suddeutsche Zeitung and over 100 media organisations, including The Indian Express. The leaked data contains 11.5 million documents with details of offshore entities set up by Mossack Fonseca over 40 years, including details of entities set up by over 500 Indian nationals. The Supreme Court, which is hearing a PIL on the need for a court-monitored probe in the case, had earlier this month asked the CBDT to submit all copies of reports prepared by the MAG in a sealed cover before the next hearing.