TWO YEARS after the Panama Papers revelations, new records show that entities linked to Indian nationals dominate the list of offshore companies on the radar of authorities in the British Virgin Islands (BVI) and the Bahamas.
This is evident from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca’s response to authorities in the BVI and the Bahamas who sought information on client companies soon after the Panama Papers revelations in April 2016.
The Financial Investigation Agency (FIA) in Tortola, BVI, was the first off the block to seek details — almost half of all offshore companies listed in the Panama Papers were incorporated in the BVI.
The FIA sent Mossack Fonseca a list of 69 companies, seeking their details. This request was made on May 3, 2016 — within four weeks of the Panama Papers revelations. On May 10, 2016, Mossack Fonseca dispatched an Excel spreadsheet to the FIA, attaching individual folders for each client.
The May 3 letter — it is marked confidential and is signed by a Director of the FIA — states that the information being requested is seen as “relevant” in relation to the investigation of a financial offence including money laundering, and relevant to the performance of functions under the 2003 Financial Investigation Act.
There are other requests from BVI authorities as well and an analysis shows that of the 116 requests received by Mossack Fonseca from the FIA, at least 63 are about Indian clients.
The Indian clients, listed earlier by The Indian Express in the Panama Papers reports in April 2016, include companies where industrialist Anil Vasudev Salgaocar and his son, Arjun Anil Salgaocar, are listed as shareholders; companies owned by members of the Rosy Blue family; and offshore company owners or directors such as Lokesh Sharma, Satish Modi, Onkar Kanwar, Anurag Kejriwal and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan.
In its response to the FIA, Mossack Fonseca has included details whether the company is still active or has been struck off, and names of the beneficial owners (BOs) of the company.
Authorities in Bahamas also started sending notices to Mossack Fonseca (Bahamas) in August 2016. In a notice dispatched on March 7, 2017, the Ministry of Finance in Nassau refers to “numerous notice to serve documents in respect of requests received from tax authorities of the Bahamas’ treaty partners” and directs the firm to immediately provide the outstanding information.
In a pending list of nine entities sent by the Bahamas authorities in March 2017, seven are linked to Indian nationals. These entities are Lady Shipping Ltd, Tramp Shipping Ltd, Treasure Shipping Ltd (Amitabh Bachchan), J&W Inc (P R S Oberoi), Insula International Ltd (K K Modi Investments & Financial Services Ltd), The Threewells Foundation (Umesh Shahra), Consolidated (Holding) Ltd and LJ Management (IOM) Ltd (Raju Radhakrishna Shete), Asia Investment and Marketing Company Ltd (Ashwani Mehra et al) and Dunstan Investment Ltd (Chhotumati C Patel).
Mossack Fonseca is asked to provide information about beneficial owners; details of assets; financial and banking information and so on. The Ministry of Finance’s notice reminds Mossack Fonseca that under Section 12 of the International Tax Cooperation Act, willful concealment of information sought by the Competent Authority is an offence punishable with imprisonment for 12 months or a maximum fine of USD 25,000 or both.
Incidentally, attaching a list of pending requests for information from the Ministry of Finance, an employee of MF (Bahamas), in an internal email on April 12, 2017, wrote: “We are no longer able to view some of our cases… in the event where a company does have BO (beneficial ownership) information or declaration etc, we are able to see the names but not able to pull the files from the system.”
Immediately after the publication of the Panama Papers in April 2016, the Indian Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) began sending requests for information to 13 offshore jurisdictions where Indian clients incorporated companies via Mossack Fonseca.
On September 9, 2017, The Indian Express reported that the CBDT had dispatched over 300 requests to various jurisdictions and received replies in 240 cases.