Bollywood star Aishwarya Rai Bachchan was questioned by the Enforcement Directorate in connection with its probe into the 2016 Panama Papers expose published by The Indian Express in collaboration with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) which showed that several prominent personalities in India had floated companies in tax havens.
It is learnt that Rai has also been questioned on her foreign travels since Panama Papers records show she, along with family members, attended a meeting of the Board of Directors of a British Virgin Islands (BVI) company, Amic Partners Limited in Dubai in June 2005, the year the company was incorporated. She is also being questioned on a large deposit made to a foreign bank account of her husband, Abhishek Bachchan, using the Liberalised Remittance Scheme (LRS).
It is understood that Rai has denied any knowledge of the BVI company and told ED investigators that it was her father, late Krishna Raj Rai, who handled all her financial matters.
Significantly, officials said that a key document of Amic Partners Limited, published by The Indian Express as part of the 2016 Panama Papers expose, has now been independently obtained and verified by them from authorities in BVI.
Incidentally, documents of Amic Partners Limited included those of its Certificate of Incumbency; company Resolutions and minutes of its Board of Directors meeting. The minutes are signed by Rai and her other family members. The minutes also reveal that the Dubai Branch of the ABN AMRO Bank would be appointed as investment managers for the Rai family’s offshore entity.
Rai was summoned to appear before the Investigating Officer in Delhi Monday. Sources said she is being questioned over FEMA (Foreign Exchange Management Act) allegations, and not money laundering.
Rai was one of several prominent personalities named in The Indian Express-ICIJ 2016 Panama Papers expose. The summons from the ED is the first indication that agencies are actively pursuing the case against Rai and her family members.
Senior officials told The Indian Express that Rai had been sent summons two times in October and November this year but had sought time.
The papers regarding the Bachchans were part of records maintained by Mossack Fonseca (MF), a Panamanian firm that helped set up offshore entities. These showed that for at least three years, Rai and her family were part of Amic Partners.
The Indian Express accessed MF records which showed that Rai, her father Kotedadi Ramana Rai Krishna Raj, mother Vrinda Krishna Raj Rai, and brother Aditya Rai were appointed on May 14, 2005, as directors of Amic Partners – with an initial authorised capital of $50,000.
On June 18, 2005, an Amic board resolution changed Rai’s status to shareholder. And on July 5, 2005, internal instructions exchanged between MF staff stated: “One of the shareholders requested to shorten her name from Ms Ashwaria Rai (sic) to Ms A Rai for reasons of confidentiality. The same was mutually agreed and consented by all directors and shareholders.”
In 2008, a year after Rai married Abhishek Bachchan, the process to wind up the company was initiated, show MF records.
MF records also show that when the company was set up, each share had a par value of $1 with the Certificate of Incumbency stating that the four directors had an identical holding of 12,500 shares each.
Correspondence from MF’s Dubai office shows that Amic was acquired for $1,500, with $1,150 being the acquisition fee and $350 charged as the licence fee. The agent used was a Dubai-based company, BKR Adonis Kannan. The subscribers resolution of Amic — dated May 12, 2005 — shows Rai and her father as the “first Directors”. In all MF documents linked to Amic, the address columns were left blank.
In 2007, Amic was re-registered with a Certificate of Incumbency, dated April 10, showing only Rai’s father and brother as directors and all four as shareholders. Once again, each stakeholder, including Rai, was shown to have 12,500 shares each. In 2008, the company was dissolved.
Archana Sadanand, the media advisor to Aishwarya Rai, had then said: “What is this consortium (ICIJ) and what does it do? Is this an authorised entity and how do we know that the information they get is authentic? All information that you have is totally untrue and false.”
The ED has been probing the Panama Papers case since the expose came out in 2016. As reported by The Indian Express, over Rs 20,000 crore worth of undeclared assets have been detected by the Income Tax authorities in connection with the Panama Papers investigation.