Kolkata businessman Shishir K Bajoria, promoter of SK Bajoria Group with an annual turnover of $200 million, rushed to update Mossack Fonseca’s records two days after The Indian Express contacted him with queries on his beneficial ownership of an offshore firm in the British Virgin Islands (BVI) during the Panama Papers investigation.
The latest leak of documents shows that on March 23, 2016, First Names Group, an Isle of Man entity which set up Haptic (BVI) Ltd along with Mossack Fonseca, contacted the Panamanian law firm to update “beneficial ownership information… as soon as possible” from Shishir Kumar Bajoria to Charles Gary Hepburn.
In his response to The Indian Express in 2016, Bajoria had claimed that though he was a client of First Names, he did not hold beneficial ownership of Haptic, which was incorporated in 2015. “I believe that any connection to me was made in error,” he wrote. In an attached statement, First Names representative Hepburn wrote: “We made an administrative error on a form which we sent to Mossack Fonseca…”
The Indian Express reported on Bajoria’s offshore link on April 4, 2016, following which Haptic came on the radar of tax officials in the BVI, leading to a series of exchanges involving the authorities, the law firm and First Names.
Panama Papers: Shishir K Bajoria, SK Bajoria Group
Just a month later, on May 3, Haptic was included in a list of 69 companies sent by BVI’s Financial Investigation Agency (FIA) to Mossack Fonseca seeking more details. On May 10, the law firm reported Bajoria as the beneficial owner of Haptic to the FIA.
In the same month, the new data shows, First Names responded to a due diligence request from Mossack Fonseca by stating that Haptic was being liquidated. On being told that due diligence documentation needs to be maintained for five years after the end of any business relationship, First Names claimed ownership of Haptic.
In October 2016, however, Mossack Fonseca again informed BVI authorities that Bajoria was the beneficiary owner of Haptic, which was dissolved in May. This “outdated information” was finally revised in another submission to BVI authorities in March 2017, which listed Hepburn as the beneficiary.
Mossack Fonseca records of 2016 showed that Haptic was formed “to receive assets from sister company and settle new trust” with its activities to be carried out “in Isle of Man/UK”. The value of its assets was more than $1 million.
A spokesperson for First Names said: “Mr Bajoria does not and has never owned or controlled or held a stake in Haptic (BVI) Limited and he is not and has never been a beneficial owner of Haptic. First Names Group made an administrative error on a form which it sent to Mossack Fonseca. Upon being made aware of the error, First Names Group made significant attempts to ensure that Mossack Fonseca corrected their records, including correspondence in 2017 in an attempt to ensure that the authorities at the Ministry of Finance in the BVI had the correct information.”
A spokesperson for Shishir Bajoria said: “Mr Bajoria vehemently refuted no sooner he came to know through your newspaper that he has been connected with Haptic (BVI) Ltd, which was solely because of an apparent administrative error… He has done everything possible within his reach to substantiate above. In March 2017, First Names Group informed Mr Bajoria that the error made was corrected and Mossack Fonseca had informed BVI authorities accordingly. Therefore reference to October 2016 has no relevance especially after 20 months in June 2018.”
Bajoria belongs to one of the oldest business families in Kolkata trading in jute and tea — the SK Bajoria Group has steel refractory units in six countries. A close associate of former chief minister late Jyoti Basu, Bajoria joined the BJP in August 2014.