Two years after the Panama Papers blew the lid off how the global elite, including over 500 Indians, park and move their money in and out of secret tax havens, the Panama Papers are back — to reveal telling new details. More than 1.2 million fresh documents, at least 12,000 of them linked to Indians, have been investigated by The Indian Express, in collaboration with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung. Just as was done with the earlier set of over 11.5 million documents in 2016.
This fresh investigation of Indian individuals and entities who figure in this new set of papers reveals how Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, which serviced their accounts, scrambled to respond to an unprecedented global crackdown. Significantly, confirming, in the process, the existence of several customers who had hitherto denied any links. And lifting the veil on the financial trail of new clients.
Panama Papers: The Aftermath
Clearly, this new set — Panama Papers: The Aftermath — which The Indian Express has investigated, in the first set of a series of reports that begins today, will provide further teeth to the inquiries and audits ordered by the government and its investigative agencies.
This second lot of the Panama Papers highlights details of offshore companies incorporated by a clutch of Indian businessmen who did not figure in the 2016 leak. These include Ajay Bijli, owner of PVR cinemas, and members of his family; Kavin Bharti Mittal, CEO of Hike Messenger and son of Sunil Mittal; and, Jalaj Ashwin Dani, son of Asian Paints promoter Ashwin Dani.
The new papers also show that several companies set up by Indians were, first, sent notices by Mossack Fonseca (several by November 2016) to produce missing information and these letters mentioned the name/s of the Beneficial Owner (BO), wherever available, or demanded that the name be immediately disclosed.
In the next stage, Mossack Fonseca served 90-day notices to clients informing them that the firm would resign as Registered Agent because the companies failed to meet legal due diligence requirements.
Those whose links to offshore entities have been confirmed by Mossack Fonseca in a series of messages include Shiv Khemka, Amitabh Bachchan, Jehangir Sorabjee, K P Singh of the DLF Group and his immediate family, Anurag Kejriwal, Navin Mehra of Mehrasons Jewellers and Hajra Iqbal Memon and his family.
An illustrative case is how, shortly after the 2016 expose, Mossack Fonseca, in its communications, named Amitabh Bachchan as director of two companies Lady Shipping Ltd and Treasure Shipping Ltd and, subsequently, served the 90-day notice to him via UK-based Minerva Trust — the administrator for these companies — addressing him as director of a third company, Sea Bulk Shipping Company Ltd. The notice conveyed Mossack Fonseca’s intent to resign as the company’s agent saying that Sea Bulk Shipping did not fulfil “our due diligence requirements”.
Bachchan, who is under official scrutiny in connection with the Panama Papers, has denied any link to these companies and did not respond to an email sent by The Indian Express earlier this week.
Thousands of new documents connected to Mossack Fonseca’s Indian clients also reveal a disparate pattern — while some Indian owners of offshore companies rushed to liquidate their firms, others asked Mossack Fonseca to continue as their agent. Some even increased their holdings — like Lokesh Sharma, owner of British Virgin Islands-based Mardi Gras Holdings, who increased the authorised share capital 30 times in February 2017.
While P R S Oberoi resigned as director of J&W Inc, a Bahamas company, in May 2016, Shishir Bajoria, who claimed his name in Mossack Fonseca records was a clerical mistake, contacted Mossack Fonseca through an intermediary to change the beneficial ownership of Haptic (BVI) Ltd which was liquidated in May 2016.
Ironically, on April 5, 2016, the very day of the global media leak, Mossack Fonseca sent an “assurance” to its subsidiary offices vowing “to make sure intrusions of this nature are prevented from happening in the future.” But within days, emails, full of alarm, continued to pour in, many on behalf of companies owned by Indians.
A particularly revealing one is a May 9, 2016 email received by Mossack Fonseca from P P Shah and Associates, a Mumbai-based accountancy firm, in connection with offshore entity Whitefield Global Investments Ltd, whose beneficiaries are Baroda-based Chirayu Amin and members of his family.
It couldn’t be more direct: “Huge turbulence is started in the financial world including India. We need to respond to the Indian authorities asap as they have initiated inquiries based on the leaked report and documents which we understand are by and large correct information and documents…”
The very day of the Panama Papers expose, the Indian government had announced a probe by a Multi Agency Group (MAG).
Panama Papers: Two years on
Two years on, the information from the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) — which heads the probe unit — is that in all, 426 Indians named in the Panama Papers have been put under the scanner and, until June 2018, Rs 1,088 crore ($162.4 million) of undisclosed income has been detected.
The tax authorities continue to take action against those named in the Panama Papers and until November 2017, searches and surveys have been conducted in 58 cases. Prosecutions against 16 Indians named in the Panama Papers have been filed in courts.
As recently as June 13, three Delhi-based owners of entities were subject of early-morning simultaneous searches. They are Devesh Bahl and Rajeev Vaid (BVI entity: Pythhos Technology); Mohit Jain (BVI entity: Om Metals SPRL Limited) and Gurpal Singh Khurana (BVI entity: Top India Limited).
The new data and documents also reveals financial details about an array of global elites including football superstar Lionel Messi, Argentina’s President Mauricio Macri’s family and shell companies owned by iconic French jeweller Pierre Cartier.
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