Multi-Agency Group Set Up to Track 500 In­di­ans on Panama Pa­pers List

With the dis­clo­sure of over 500 In­dian names, in­clud­ing film ac­tors, in­dus­tri­al­ists and politi­cians, that used Panama law firm Mos­sack Fon­seca to set up off­shore en­ti­ties, the govt has promised to take ac­tion against un­law­ful ac­counts. The FM too has warn

The Economic Times - - Economy - Our Bureau

New Delhi: The gov­ern­ment has con­sti­tuted a multi-agency group to con­tin­u­ously mon­i­tor in­for­ma­tion aris­ing out of dis­clo­sures of more than 500 In­dian names that used Panama law firm Mos­sack Fon­seca to set up off­shore en­ti­ties, promis­ing ac­tion against un­law­ful ac­counts.

“The multi-agency group will com­prise var­i­ous gov­ern­ment agen­cies — the CBDT (Cen­tral Board of Di­rect Taxes), FIU (Fi­nan­cial In­tel­li­gence Unit), FT&TR (For­eign Tax and Tax Re­search) and RBI (Re­serve Bank of In­dia). They will con­tin­u­ously mon­i­tor these (ac­counts) and which­ever ac­counts are found to be un­law­ful, strict ac­tion as per ex­ist­ing laws will be taken,” finance min­is­ter Arun Jait­ley told re­porters.

The Spe­cial In­ves­ti­ga­tion Team (SIT) on black money also said it will in­ves­ti­gate the lat­est dis­clo­sures.

Jait­ley said PM Naren­dra Modi had dis­cussed the is­sue with him and the group had been set up on his ad­vice.

Ac­cord­ing to a news re­port in the In­dian Ex­press, the Panama Pa­pers show the list in­cludes film ac­tors, in­dus­tri­al­ists and politi­cians who have used the law firm to set up firms in the Bri­tish Virgin Is­lands and the Ba­hamas.The re­port said the list in­cluded foun­da­tions and trusts and pass­port de­tails of 234 In­di­ans. Ger­man daily Sued­deutsche Zeitung had ob­tained more than 11.5 mil­lion doc­u­ments from an anony­mous source that was shared with me­dia world­wide through the In­ter­na­tional Con­sor­tium of In­ves­tiga­tive Jour­nal­ists (ICIJ). The ICIJ said there could be “le­git­i­mate uses for off­shore com­pa­nies” in some cases.

The global list in­cludes po­lit­i­cal lead­ers, celebri­ties and prom­i­nent sportspersons. Many coun­tries, in­clud­ing Aus­tralia and New Zealand, have also an­nounced probe.

“I wel­come this in­ves­ti­ga­tion. It is a healthy step that these kind of ex­poses are be­ing made. I have been re­peat­edly say­ing that the world is now go­ing to in­creas­ingly be­come more trans­par­ent, coun­tries are co­op­er­at­ing with each other and slowly all this in­for­ma­tion is go­ing to come out as a re­sult of var­i­ous global ini­tia­tives which have been launched,” Jait­ley said. SIT chair­man MB Shah said it will look into the re­ports. “In­ves­ti­ga­tions are be­ing car­ried out. We are go­ing to in­ves­ti­gate it (the list) thor­oughly.”

Jait­ley said this was the fourth batch of names re­vealed while list­ing the ac­tion taken. “The first re­lated to Liecht­en­stein ac­counts against all per­sons in­volved in that pros­e­cu­tions have al­ready been launched,” he said. “As­sess­ment or­ders have been passed. Then de­tails came in 2011with re­gard to HSBC ac­count hold­ers — 569 out of those ac­count hold­ers have been traced, 390 were il­le­gal and al­ready 154 sets of pros­e­cu­tions have been filed.” He said as­sess­ment or­ders have led to the dis­cov­ery of il­le­gal as­sets worth around .₹ 6,500 crore.

In 2013, the ICIJ is­sued a list of 700 per­sons. Out of these, 434 In­dian en­ti­ties have been traced. Out of these, 184 ad­mit­ted their re­la­tion­ship with the ac­counts and the process of pass­ing as­sess­ment and prose­cut­ing them is now on, the finance min­istry said in a state­ment. The gov­ern­ment had last year passed a strin­gent black money law that pre­scribes 10-year im­pris­on­ment and ef­fec­tive con­fis­ca­tion of any un­de­clared for­eign as­sets. It of­fered a one-time, three-month win­dow for past of­fend­ers to come clean. A to­tal of 644 dec­la­ra­tions in­volv­ing undis­closed for­eign as­sets worth .₹ 4,164 crore were made un­der the law.

IN­FOR­MA­TION FLOW

The gov­ern­ment has al­ready been re­ceiv­ing in­for­ma­tion from many coun­tries in­clud­ing the Bri­tish Virgin Is­lands un­der the in­for­ma­tion ex­change agree­ment it has with them.The Bri­tish Virgin Is­lands has been pop­u­lar with In­di­ans look­ing to park their black money overseas. In­for­ma­tion flow from the tax haven has in­creased af­ter an In­dian del­e­ga­tion vis­ited the coun­try last year in Jan­uary.

It may al­ready have in­for­ma­tion on some cases un­der the agree­ment signed be­tween the two coun­tries last year. The gov­ern­ment is ne­go­ti­at­ing a tax in­for­ma­tion ex­change agree­ment with Panama.

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