The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, a network across 78 countries, has published one of the world’s biggest leaks of documents on secret offshore accounts held by the world’s big and mighty
Last year, it was Swiss Leaks, a global list of over 1,100 Indians with secret bank accounts in HSBC Geneva, which led to the debate over black money parked overseas. Now comes, ‘The Panama Papers leak.’
The massive leak of over 11 million tax documents of Panama law firm Mossack Fonseca, as exposed by International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), features over 500 Indians including politicians, businessmen and Bollywood stars linked to offshore firms. According to the documents, the Indians include actors Amitabh Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, corporates including DLF owner KP Singh, famed lawyer Harish Salve, Sameer Gehlaut of the Indiabulls group, Onkar Kanwar of the Apollo group, Gautam Adani’s elder brother Vinod Adani, and others. Two politicians who figure on the list are Shishir Bajoria from West Bengal and Anurag Kejriwal, the former chief of the Delhi unit of Loksatta Party.
The files are reportedly only the first instalment of the leak, now known as “The Panama Papers”, and were first provided by an anonymous source to the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung.
Prominent Indians placed in the list are:
Amitabh Bachchan, Bollywood superstar: According to the leaked papers, Bachchan ipient of highest civilian award,the padma vibhushan is found as a director at four shipping firms set up in the British Virgin Islands and Bahamas. “The authorised capital of these companies ranged between $5,000 and $50,000, but they traded in ships worth millions of dollars,” the report said. He was a close friend of the Gandhi family’s.
Aishwarya Rai,actress and former Miss World: Often featured among the world’s most beautiful women, Aishwarya Rai is Bachchan’s daughter-in-law. The leaked papers allege that Rai was a director at Amic Partners Limited, a company in the British Virgin Islands before the status was changed to a shareholder along with her father Kotedadi Ramana Rai Krishna Rai, mother Vrinda Krishna Raj Rai, and brother Aditya Rai . Although the company was dissolved in 2008, a year after she married Amitabh Bachchan’s son, Abhishek.
K P Singh, chairman of DLF: The founder of Delhi-based DLF, India’s largest real estate developer, K P Singh, reportedly acquired a company registered in the British Virgin Islands in 2010, along with his wife. “At least two more companies were set up in 2012 by son Rajiv Singh and daughter Pia Singh. The family’s three offshore entities together hold almost $10 million,” The Indian Express report said. DLF, which made much of its money in the late 1980’s by developing Gurgaon, a satellite town near Delhi, was in 2012 accused of helping fund a purchase by Robert Vadra, the son-in-law of Sonia Gandhi, the Congress party chief.
Sameer Gehlaut, chairman, Indiabulls: The owner of real estate firm Indiabulls bought three properties in London through family firms registered in Karnal, Delhi, Bahamas, Jersey and the UK which are being developed into residential and hospitality projects. The transactions involve a complex network of companies all leading to the SG Family Trust owned by Sumita Singh, a former MLA and the Haryana Mahila Congress head, and her husband Jagdeep Singh Virk. These two are the parents of Divya Gehlaut, Sameer’s wife.
The Mumbai-based family, which owns a vessel supplying company, is reportedly associated with a number of offshore entities in Panamas and British Virgin Islands. According to documents, some six companies were set up in 2008, which was dissolved in 2014. Meanwhile, a Garware spokesperson told The Indian Express that the family wasn’t connected or concerned with the entities mentioned.
Harish Salve, corporate lawyer:
One of India’s top corporate lawyers, who fights legal cases for the rich and mighty in India. According to the leaked documents,set up three offshore companies in the British Virgin along with his family. “I set up Crestbright in 2012—as a holding company to hold my lawfully made and fully disclosed investments based in the UK, but the company has zero assets and zero income,” Salve told the Indian Express.
Jehangir Soli Sorabjee, physician: Sorabjee, son of India’s former attorney general Soli Sorabjee, is the only shareholder of Moonglow Investments Global, an offshore firm incorporated in the British Virgin Islands in 2010. A physician at the Bombay Hospital, Jehangir also teaches at medical colleges. In his response to The Indian Express, he said the facts were “correct” and that his company “has received funds for investments sent abroad from India through the liberalised RBI scheme.” He added that this income was reflected in his income tax returns
Omkar Kanwar, chairman of Apollo Tyres: Kanwar set up an offshore company in 2010 and two trusts in the British Virgin Islands in 2014. “Indian lawfully permits foreign investments in accordance with certain regulations. Any investment abroad that the Kanwar family may have is in due compliance with Indian laws, where applicable, including making disclosures wherever required,” a spokesperson for the group told The Indian Express.
Zavary Poonawalla: Poonawalla is the elder brother of Cyrus Poonawalla, an Indian billionaire who owns businesses from real estate to pharmaceuticals. Zavary, his wife and two daughters are listed as directors of Stallast Ltd, a firm incorporated in the British Virgin Islands, according to the Fonseca documents. Zavary told The Indian Express that they were directors of the firm. “As we remitted money under the Liberalised Remittance Scheme through the automatic route, no special permission was needed from the RBI,” he said. He added that the details have been disclosed to tax authorities.
Indira Sivasailam and Mallika Srinivasan: Sivasailam, who died in 2008, was the wife of Anantharamakrishnan Sivasailam, chairman of the Amalgamations Group. The investigation lists Indira as a shareholder in Stanbridge Company, a firm incorporated in the British Virgin Islands. Her daughter, Mallika Srinivasan, wife of Venu Srinivasan, owner of TVS Motors, received shares in Stanbridge after her parents transferred them in 2011. Mallika subsequently gave up the shares. In her response to the Indian Express, she denied setting up any offshore company and said she has “no connection with Stanbridge Company Ltd.”
Defence firms: The Indian Express investigations also revealed that commissions were paid by Italian defence equipment maker Elettronica SpA through two offshore entities registered in the British Virgin Islands and Dublin for defence contracts in India. The two offshore entities then paid commissions—ranging from 5% to 17%—to two other companies, one of which was owned by an Indian.
“While the precise quantum of contracts signed by Elettronica SpA with the Indian armed forces and the commissions being paid is not known, there are documents annexed with marketing agreements which list the nature of the contracts,” The Indian Express said.