NEW DELHI: More than 700 Indian names, including those of politicians, corporates and celebrities, on Monday figured in the leaked ‘Paradise Papers’ detailing business dealings of “the world’s most powerful people and companies” in offshore tax havens.
Regulatory and enforcement agencies swung into action by promising a multi-regulatory probe soon after the names started tumbling out as part of the latest global expose by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), even as several of those named denied any wrongdoing.
The Indian names include Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan, defaulter businessman Vijay Mallya, corporate lobbyist Niira Radia, film star Sanjay Dutt’s wife Dilnashin, union minister Jayant Sinha and Rajya Sabha MP R.K. Sinha, the ICIJ’s media partner in India, The Indian Express, said. The ICIJ, which worked with 95 media partners globally for the investigation, said it explored 13.4 million leaked files from offshore law firms, majorly Bermuda-based Appleby, and company registries in several secretive tax jurisdictions.
Among the 180 countries represented in the data, India ranked 19th in terms of number of names (714), while Sun Group, founded by Nand Lal Khemka, figured as Appleby’s second largest client with as many as 118 offshore entities. The ICIJ said the ‘Paradise Papers’ reveal the offshore activities of some of the world’s most powerful people and companies and the files were obtained by the German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung.
It, however, put out a disclaimer that “there are legitimate uses for offshore companies and trusts” and it does not “intend to suggest or imply that any people, companies or other entities included in the ICIJ Offshore Leaks Database have broken the law or otherwise acted improperly”. ICIJ also said that many people and entities may have similar names and suggested that the identities of those named in the database should be confirmed based on addresses or other identifiable information.
The Indian names also included those associated with the Sun TV-Aircel-Maxis case, Essar-Loop 2G case, SNC-Lavalin in which Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan was named and then cleared and a case against Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy; as also entities linked to Rajasthan ambulance scam that names an entity called Ziquista Healthcare (with Congress leader Sachin Pilot and former minister P. Chidambaram’s son Karti as early honorary/independent directors).
In a series of tweets, Sinha, the minister of state for civil aviation, denied any wrongdoing on his part. Interestingly, Bachchan wrote a long blog on Sunday, hours before the ‘Paradise Papers’ were published, explaining that he has always cooperated with the “system”, even though he did not directly refer to the latest leaks.
The Indian names on the list included a number of listed entities, some of which saw their shares falling, while regulatory officials said they would look into any wrongdoing on the part of such companies or their promoters with regard to alleged fund diversion and corporate governance lapses. Official people in the know also said that a multi-agency group of investigative bodies probing the ‘Panama Papers’, an earlier trove of leaked data released by ICIJ, would look into the latest ‘Paradise Papers’ leak.
Some of the names, including that of Bachchan, had figured in Panama Papers as well. The main opposition party Congress took the opportunity to accuse Prime Minister Narendra Modi of “betraying” the people with “zero action” against black money stashed abroad and demanded resignation of union minister Jayant Sinha and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP R.K. Sinha.
Rights group Transparency International called for stricter measures to regulate the financial sector and their participants, including real estate brokers, lawyers and bankers. US-based think-tank Global Financial Integrity (GFI) said multi-national companies (MNCs) should be required to publicly report their number of employees, facilities and their revenue on a country-by-country basis to help check tax abuses.
The ICIJ said the ‘Paradise Papers’ reveal offshore interests and activities of more than 120 politicians and world leaders, including Queen Elizabeth II whose private estate indirectly invested in a rent-to-own loan company accused of predatory tactics.
Besides, 13 allies, major donors and cabinet members of US President Donald Trump appear on the list, including commerce secretary Wilbur Ross’ interests in “a shipping company that makes millions from an energy firm whose owners include Russian President Vladimir Putin’s son-in-law and a sanctioned Russian tycoon”.
It further said the leaked files from Appleby include details of tax planning by nearly 100 multinational corporations, including Apple, Nike and Uber. The political names on the list included Shaukat Aziz, who was Pakistan’s prime minister from 2004 to 2007, after serving a five-year stint as the country’s finance minister.
The leaked files also detailed how owners of jets and yachts, including royalty and sports stars, used Isle of Man tax avoidance structures, and revealed tax haven shopping sprees by MNCs in Africa and Asia that use shell companies in Mauritius and Singapore to reduce taxes.