Paradise Papers: Seven Steps Modi Must Take Against Black Money

Workers wait for a cargo ship to beach at Mundra Port in Gujarat April 2, 2014. Credit: Reuters/Amit Dave

The ‘Paradise Papers’ expose carried out by the Indian Express in collaboration with a German newspaper and the International Consortium of Journalists (ICIJ) once again reveals the extent of the black money menace and the lack of political will to take it on. By now it is clear that the Narendra Modi government that rode to power on widespread popular anger against corruption and black money has let the people down and is actively collaborating in covering up rather than uncovering black money. In this context, celebrating ‘Anti-Black Money Day’ on the anniversary of demonetisation is nothing but a cruel joke on the people of this country.

There is a set pattern by now. Instead of taking proactive and concrete action, the government reacts only to leaks that come out from time to time. Whether it is the leaks about accounts in Liechtenstein’s banks or in HSBC bank or the Panama Papers or Paradise Papers, every time the government defends its own people and says that it has set up some task force or the other. Thereafter, we don’t know what happens. We have not seen any details of any accounts of Indians abroad obtained by the government on its own proactively or any amount recovered or any culprits jailed. For all big claims of black money caught through demonetisation, we are yet to see any names or lists. Even very specific information on black money given to the government has not led to any prosecution. Since all such exposés name politicians of the ruling party as well as the opposition, there is no concerted public campaign to bring the guilty to the book.

This is a global menace and arguably the biggest challenge to democracy today. The Paradise Papers, and Panama Papers earlier, present another example of how big corporates and the ultra-rich of various countries move their money to tax havens and out of their countries through shell companies and trusts created for this purpose. Siphoning off funds of corporations to tax havens in this manner is today arguably the biggest business in the world, involving amounts in excess of $100 billion a year. It is a malaise which lies at the root of corruption, black money, income inequalities and the continuing hold of corrupt politicians and their parties over the levers of power through this illicit money.

These two exposés reveal a standard modus operandi. In most cases, the money is the product of siphoned off funds from domestic companies by over-invoicing and under-invoicing through intermediary shell companies. Siphoning out of huge funds leads to non-performing assets (NPAs) since most of these companies take loans from public sector banks on the basis of over-invoiced costs, as the Adani, Essar as well as Sterling cases show. This also leads to the defrauding or cheating of electricity consumers by higher tariffs imposed upon them, as well as cheating of these public companies by their promoters. This is why we see this phenomenon of companies like those of Vijay Mallya going into bankruptcy, while the promoters manage to have huge assets, mostly abroad. Some of these funds could also be cases of tax evasion and not necessarily siphoning out by over-invoicing and under-invoicing. However, hardly any part of it is likely to be legitimate or above-board, because there was no reason to park it in tax havens. And it should have been declared upfront to the authorities.

This phenomenon is widely used by large corporates, and known and understood by the politicians and bureaucrats, and by this government. This device has been transparently visible in a number of big cases investigated recently by the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, Income Tax Department, the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate. Unfortunately, as the following cases show, the government has not taken any effective action.

The Modi government’s failure to tackle black money is quire evident from some of these cases:

1. Sterling Biotech: More than Rs. 5,000 crore allegedly siphoned through over-invoicing and under-invoicing

On June 28, 2011, the Income Tax Department conducted a search and seizure under Section 132 of the Income Tax Act covering 25 premises of the Gujarat-based Sterling Biotech and Sandesara Group of Companies.

During the raid, certain incriminating documentary evidence was found and seized from the premises of the group at Mumbai and Vadodara. As per the FIR, a “Diary 2011” was found from the company premises during a raid, which detailed the monthly payouts to the accused income tax officials and several police officials and politicians in Gujarat. The FIR states that:

“The Documents seized revealed that the Sandesara group has been acting as a depository for receiving funds on behalf of persons including public servants and for further delivery to them at the place of convenience. The evidence collected by the Income Tax Department showed corruption of various public servants including three senior IRS officers”. More than 5000 crores were found to have been loaded by this company through over invoicing and under invoicing and more than 74 accounts were opened in foreign jurisdictions particularly tax havens. (FIR dated 25.10.2017 registered by CBI)

The Modi government, however, promoted Rakesh Asthana and appointed him as special director in the CBI despite the fact that his name figures in the list of persons who have received the payment and also despite the fact that the CBI director had strongly opposed his promotion citing the ‘integrity clause’ requirement.

A second, more incriminating FIR was lodged by the CBI on October 25, 2017 against the Sandesara Group company Sterling Biotech Limited, its directors, chartered accountant and the then director of Andhra Bank for allegedly cheating public sector banks of Rs 5,383 crore. The FIR alleges that the Sterling Biotech group companies availed of more than Rs 5,000 crore in loans from State Bank, Andhra Bank and other public sector banks, which turned into non-performing assets. The CBI has alleged that the group was laundering money through a circuitous route and indulged in insider trading. The FIR states that the directors falsified the records of the company related to production, turnover and investment in capital assets using various India-based entities and entities situated abroad. On the basis of these false and fabricated documents, manipulated balance sheets were prepared to induce the banks to sanction higher amounts of loans, which were later diverted for personal purposes.

The CBI has alleged that the company even falsely represented its market capitalisation. For this, the CBI says, “the shares in India and abroad in the names of non-promoters were in fact held by the directors themselves which were concealed from the banks with the dishonest intent to cheat them.” According to the CBI, manipulations were done in reporting turnover, investment in capital goods and taxes to be paid on the turnover. The bogus turnover was in turn arrived at through bogus sales to benami companies in Dubai and India and inflated export bills. (FIR dated 25.10.2017 registered by CBI)

2. DRI investigations of Adani Power and Essar

Indian power companies directly import the coal/equipment from the OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers), based mostly in China. The foreign intermediary company is a wholly controlled/owned subsidiary of these Indian companies, set up solely for the purpose of generating two sets of invoices for such imports. The invoices generated by the OEMs on the intermediary company reflect the actual price of the imports. The invoices generated by the intermediary company on the Indian companies can be inflated almost to the extent of 400%. The amount of over-valuation is the illegal profit generated by the promoters of the Indian companies, in the garb of costs, which is siphoned out by their subsidiary intermediary foreign companies, into accounts owned by the promoters situated mostly in tax havens.

Artificial over-invoicing of coal and power equipment by such companies is a practice adversely impacting millions of consumers in the form of higher tariffs since the increase in the inflated costs of coal/equipment is realised from the consumers in the form of higher electricity tariffs. Further, the share holders of such power generating companies have been cheated of their rightful dividends since these companies artificially reduce profits by showing higher costs. Moreover, the loans issued by banks for the purpose of imports, are used to disburse the loan amount to foreign intermediaries, in the garb of inflated invoices, for generation of unaccounted profit. This is a major reason for the alarming growth of non-performing assets in the banking sector. The Income Tax Department is also unable to tax huge profits since the amount is absorbed by the foreign intermediary company, incorporated in tax havens such as UAE and Mauritius, leading to the evasion of tax of thousands of crores of rupees.

For more than three years since May 2014, the DRI sat over this matter, after its initial show cause notices to various companies which detailed the entire modus operandi of over invoicing through shell companies and money laundering to tax haven accounts owned by the relatives of the promoters. However, after The Guardianpublisheda detailed and very embarrassing story on Adani, the adjudicating officer of the DRI passed an order saying that this does not amount to over-invoicing, citing some untenable reasons.

In March 2016, the DRI issued an alert that about 30 power generating companies have been indulging in artificial over-invoicing of coal which is being imported from Indonesia. The DRI alert said that this is being done for two objectives: “(i) siphoning-off money abroad and (ii) to avail higher power tariff compensation based on artificially inflated cost of the imported coal.” (DRI alert circular dated 30.03.2016). However, no action has been taken despite the passage of more than one and a half years. No show-cause notice has also been issued so far to major companies like Adani etc mentioned in that note.

3. Complaint against Mukesh Ambani

The Indian high commission in Singapore made a starting disclosure to the government of India in a letter dated August 31, 2011. The high commission stated that Rs 6,530 crores have come into India from Bio Matrix Marketing Ltd., a one room company in Singapore that does not do any business. It was pointed out that this is a company with no assets, no equity and does not file an income tax returns in Singapore claiming to be a small company. Yet, the huge investment by this company of Rs 6530 crores is the single biggest FDI into India from Singapore. The high commission had stated that all this money has gone into the Reliance group of companies in India with the major chunk going to Reliance Gas Transportation Infrastructure Ltd, which is a company 100% owned by Mukesh Ambani personally.

We had, therefore, made a detailed complaint on July 8, 2014 to the SIT on Black Money but still not action has been taken.

4. Complaint against Anil Ambani

The CBI in its chargesheet in the 2G scam had confirmed that Swan Telecom was set-up by Reliance Telecom owned by Anil Ambani. We all know that as consideration of the transfer of Swan Telecom to Balwa and Goenka, they could not have directly transferred the money to Anil Ambani companies since that would have exposed the fact that Swan Telecom was owned by Reliance. Hence a circuitous route had to be followed. We had therefore found and complained to the SIT on Black Money on July 18, 2014 that M/s AAA & Sons Enterprises (an Anil Ambani company) received a huge sum of $750 million from a company, EMITS Singapore in December 2007, which was later transferred to other Anil Ambani-owned Reliance group companies. The entire amount transferred by EMITS Singapore was not used for any project by AAA & Sons but only transferred to other group companies. Though this was also an apparent case of taking funds abroad and then bringing them back to India circuitously, no action was taken even on this complaint, which was backed by all documentary evidence.

5. Finance Act amendments

Instead of taking action on such clear cases of siphoning of funds through over invoicing and instead of using that money and bringing the culprits to book, the Modi government has made many retrograde amendments to the laws dealing with political funding in order to allow foreign companies and Indian corporates to donate unlimited anonymous funds to political parties.

Retrograde amendments have been made by the government through the Finance Act, 2016 and Finance Act, 2017, both passed illegally as money bills. These amendments have opened the floodgates to unlimited corporate donations to political parties and anonymous financing by Indian as well as foreign companies which can have serious repercussions on the Indian democracy. These amendments have removed the caps on campaign donations by companies and have legalised anonymous donations.

The Finance Act of 2017 has introduced the use of electoral bonds which is exempt from disclosure, opening the door to unchecked, unknown funding to political parties. The Finance Act, 2016 has also amended the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), 2010, to allow foreign companies with subsidiaries in India to fund political parties in India, effectively, exposing Indian politics and democracy to international lobbyists who may want to further their agenda. These Amendments pose a serious danger to the autonomy of the country and are bound to adversely affect electoral transparency, encourage corrupt practices in politics and have made the unholy nexus between politics and corporate houses more opaque and treacherous and is bound to be misused by special interest groups and corporate lobbyists.

Seven demands

If this government is at all serious about the menace of black money, it should take some immediate steps and carry out some long-term changes in the legal framework instead of sham exercises like ‘Anti Black Money Day’.

One of us (Prashant Bhushan) had, in fact, written a letter to Prime Minister Modi as far back on June 23, 2014 pointing out the steps that need to be taken to tackle black money.  The letter had suggested the following changes in the legal frameworkFirst, a new law, or an amendment to an existing law (such as the Prevention of Money Laundering Act), requiring all Indian citizens to disclose all their assets and liabilities, including their stakes in companies or trusts registered abroad, needs to be introduced. Second, any income or assets not disclosed in the required form would be deemed to be “proceeds of crime”, and included as ‘predicate offences’ defined under the UNCAC. Third, instruments such as participatory notes and anonymous investments by funds or shell companies need to be disallowed with immediate effect.  In the case of investments made in the name of a company or a trust, the major stakeholders of the company, or the trustees of the trust, must be determined and duly recorded, before the investment is allowed.

We therefore demand that:

  1. Specific and immediate action must be taken in all the cases detailed above.
  2. The government must disclose full details of the action it has taken on black money by way of recovering any money from named individuals as well as prosecutions of named individuals.
  3. Instead of making vague claims about the unearthing of black money through demonetisation, the government should disclose the details and make public all the cash deposits made by all MPs, MLAs or political parties and their office bearers between November 8 and December 31, 2016.
  4. We understand that the SIT on Black Money has also made several recommendations to the government but in most cases these recommendations have not been implemented. The government must therefore place the reports and recommendations of The SIT before the people as well as the action taken by it on those.
  5. The government must rollback the retrograde amendments made in the finance act of 2016 and 2017 relating to the FCRA as well as the funding of political parties, including electoral bonds.
  6. A law must be passed on the lines suggested above requiring all citizens to declare their foreign assets and providing for confiscation of all undisclosed assets.
  7. Rakesh Asthana must be removed from the CBI forthwith as suggested by the CBI director.

Source:-thewire.

Ryan School murder case: CBI questions Class 11 student, no evidence against bus conductor

Demonstrators protest outside Ryan International School in Gurgaon as they demand action against the school. File photo: PTI

Demonstrators protest outside Ryan International School in Gurgaon as they demand action against the school. File photo: PTI

New Delhi: A Class 11 student who allegedly wanted the parent-teacher meeting and exams to be postponed has been apprehended in connection with the killing of a seven-year-old boy in Gurgaon’s Ryan International School, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) said on Wednesday.

In a sensational twist to the case, the high school student, who is about 16 years old, was apprehended late last night for allegedly killing his junior inside the school, said a CBI spokesperson.

Pradyuman, a Class 2 student of the school, was found dead with his throat slit by a sharp-edged weapon on the morning of 8 September.

Officials in the agency said the crime was committed in just three to four minutes. The CBI has not found any evidence so far against bus conductor Ashok Kumar, who was the Gurgaon Police’s sole accused in the gruesome killing, CBI spokesperson Abhishek Dayal said.

The murder weapon, a knife, was found in the commode of the toilet where the killing allegedly took place, he said. It was the same knife seized by the Gurgaon Police.

According to the agency, the Class 11 student, believed to be weak in his studies, allegedly slit Pradyuman’s throat to get the school to declare a holiday in order to defer a scheduled parent-teacher meeting (PTM) and an examination.

The CBI spokesperson said the minor student was apprehended last night at 11.30 pm in accordance with the provisions of the Juvenile Justice Act. “His parents were kept in the loop and all measures in accordance with the JJ Act were complied with. He remains our prime suspect.”

He said the agency analysed CCTV footage, showing the movement of people in and out of the toilet, on the basis of which it narrowed the list of suspects. The agency has not found any evidence of sexual assault, he said.

The CBI was able to piece together elements of the crime by analysing CCTV footage, scientific and forensic examination, analysis of the crime scene and by questioning students, teachers and staff of the school.

Based on CCTV footage and crime scene analysis, the agency examined all potential suspects and witnesses. The list included 125 teachers and students, officials said.

Ryan Pinto, owner of the Ryan International School chain, is yet to be questioned in the case. “The probe is still on. The first task was to identify the killer. It was a tough case. By the time the case was given to us, many persons were allowed to use the bathroom. We are questioning the teenager only between 10am to 5pm as per JJ Act provisions,” said an official.

The mobile records of all the suspects were scrutinised and examined by the CBI’s special crime team. Although the Class 11 student had planned a killing on 8 September, the “child in conflict with law” had not identified his target, Dayal said. It was a coincidence that Pradyuman reached the toilet and became a victim of senior student’s ghastly plan, officials added.

The father of the high school student told a television channel that his son was innocent and they had been cooperating with the police from day one. “My son didn’t do anything. He informed the gardener and teachers after finding Pradyuman’s body. He stayed in the school the entire day, and appeared for the exam. There was not even a single spot of blood on my son’s clothes,” the father said, his face pixellated to avoid identification.

Giving details, he said Tuesday was the fourth time they were called. “I reached there around 11am… I left from there at 2am and CCTV footage can be seen for that,” he said.

The CBI’s findings will be a major embarrassment for the Gurgaon Police, which had blamed Ashok Kumar and alleged that he was waiting in the toilet with a knife. The police had formed 14 SIT teams.

Kumar, a resident of Ghamdoj village in Sohna, was hired by a school bus contractor around seven months before the killing. Villagers in Ghamdoj had said Kumar had been framed and he had no previous history of being involved in any crime. “Now that they have arrested this student, it is proof that the doubt we had about the police investigation was right,” Pradyuman’s father Varun Thakur told the media.

[“Source-livemint”]

Sharjah Ruler says education key in fight against terrorism

Sharjah Ruler Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, second left, visits the Abu Dhabi tourist pavilion at the Frankfurt International Book Fair. Abu Dhabi Culture and Tourism

Sharjah Ruler Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, second left, visits the Abu Dhabi tourist pavilion at the Frankfurt International Book Fair. Abu Dhabi Culture and Tourism

It is through education, the Sharjah Ruler said, that we can rid the region of the scourge of terrorism.

“The most effective way to face negative forces is through education and upbringing from an early age, all the way through to university,” said Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammad Al Qasimi as he addressed attendees of the Frankfurt Book Fair in Germany.

“This will empower individuals and develop their critical thinking and decision-making skills.”

Sheikh Sultan praised the constructive role Sharjah Youth and Sajaya Young Ladies of Sharjah organisations have played in encouraging education and creativity in the emirate’s young minds as he talked up the value of international book fairs.

“Taking part in different international fairs and exhibitions provides a platform to communicate with other cultures, enhance dialogue and promote the literary and scientific values of the Arab and Islamic world, as well as draw on international experience and expertise,” he said.

Concerned at the lack of appreciation shown to Arabic culture and literature in general, Sheikh Sultan hopes his visit to the Frankfurt Book Fair and his spearheading of the forthcoming Sharjah edition to be held on November 1 will act as a sign that writers’ and publishers’ work is valued.

“It is important that we are supporting authors, illustrators, publishers and other experts to develop the quality and quantity of literature,” he said.

“Sharjah’s cultural initiatives restore confidence and support intellectuals in the Arab world, many of whom had been disheartened with a lack of respect and recognition, in addition to the launch of children’s programmes, to build a new generation of writers, poets and intellectuals.”

Read more: Sharjah named World Book Capital for 2019 by Unesco

Sheikh Sultan also used the occasion to launch the German edition of his book, The Conflict between Power and Trade in the Gulf, which this year also received its English and French translation.

The event was part of a range of initiatives run by UAE cultural bodies in Frankfurt, led by the Sharjah delegation.

Wednesday also saw Sheikha Bodour Al Qasimi, as the founder of publishing house Kalimat Group, address a panel on the opportunities that literature translation presents.

She said international collaboration was key for regional publishers to evolve.

“The initial idea of using partnerships to have rights deals with different publishers really opens doors as a publisher, not only for cultural exchange but also to make sure that children in other parts of the world can understand more about our stories,” she said.

“It can act as an agent of soft diplomacy and make this world a better place.”

Abu Dhabi Culture and Tourism was also present at Frankfurt, hosting a series of seminars emphasising German and Arabic cultural organisation and challenges facing the regional publishing industry.

Thursday saw Emirati author and academic Saeed Hamdan Altunaji and German literary scholar Klaus Reichert discuss the value of translating German literary classics to Arabic. Also on Thursday, the pavilion hosted a discussion on book piracy and intellectual property rights in the Arab world.

On the international front, blockbuster author Dan Brown launched the German translation of his latest novel Origins.

With the latest novel finding his hero, the symbologist Robert Langdon, solving a case involving clues found in modern art pieces, Brown told The National that the planned Guggenheim Abu Dhabi would have been an ideal setting for Origin.

“I have to admit that I saw the proposed blueprint for the Guggenheim in Abu Dhabi and it will be one of the most spectacular buildings in the world,” he said.

“I think if that building was finished when I started this book there would have been a good chance the plot would have moved to Abu Dhabi. Call me when [The Louvre Abu Dhabi] is done. I want to see it.”

[“Source-thenational”]

UGC warning to Bhimrao Ambedkar University faculty on discrimination against SC, ST students

BBAU authorities have been asked to  develop a page on the university website for complaints of caste discrimination against SC/ST students and also make available a complaint register at the registrar’s office.

Lucknow: The University Grants Commission (UGC) has asked officials and faculty members of Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar University (BBAU) to desist from any act of discrimination against scheduled caste (SC) nd scheduled tribe (ST) students on grounds of their social origin.

BBAU authorities were also asked to develop a page on the university website for such complaints of caste discrimination against SC/ST students and also make available a complaint register at the registrar’s office.

BBAU has 50% seats reserved for scheduled caste and scheduled tribe students.

UGC under secretary Madhu Verma in her order said if any such incident came to the notice of the authorities, action should be taken against the erring officials/faculty members promptly.

The order said the university should ensure that no official, faculty members indulge in any kind of discrimination against any community or category of students.

The university may constitute a committee to look into the discriminating complaints received from SC/ST students, teachers and non teaching staff, the UGC order reads.

The university was asked to advise the official/faculty members that they should be more sensitive while dealing with such incidents of caste discrimination and send an action taken report to UGC within 30 days.

There have been a number of number occasions when students have made allegations of caste discrimination and lodged complaints.

Last year in September, a Dalit student studying forensic science, Sumit Kumar, who was suffering from liver cirrhosis, was allegedly forced to vacate his room by officials on charges of beating up a professor.

“The university officials threw out all my medicines, ultrasound reports and other belongings without showing any mercy. They were so heartless that they did not even bother to inform me. They simply uploaded the order of my rustication (with seven others) and threw away all my belongings from the room in my absence,” Kumar told Hindustan Times.

The university administration, however, has denied the charge.

BBAU was in the news on January 2016 when a few Dalit students raised slogans against PM Modi during its convocation ceremony over his silence on Hyderabad University PhD student Rohith Vemula’s suicide.

It was here at BBAU that Modi spoke about Vemula’s death for the first time saying his death “pained” him and that “Mother India has lost one of her sons”.

 

 

[“source-thestatesman”]