Investigations made by the media, has revealed several names of big individuals across the world, who have hidden their money in holding companies set up in tax havens.
This list include the names of some great personalities, actors Amitabh Bachhan, Aishwarya Rai Bachhan, DLF promoter KP Singh, Indiabulls owner Sameer Gehlaut, Gautam Adani's elder brother Vinod Adani and politicians and former chief of the Delhi unit of Loksatta Party, Anurag Kejriwal.
These individuals, and in some cases their family members, have formed offshore entities in tax havens by paying to a Panama-based law firm, Mossack Fonseca. This is the case in a nutshell.
Now, the obvious question is this. Is it illegal to invest in offshore companies if the earnings are legitimate?
No. It is not. But, the problem arises if the money is earned in a jurisdiction, where they are liable to pay taxes, and the money is transferred across the border without doing so. In this case, this becomes 'unaccounted wealth' or what is informally known as 'black money'.
Narendra Modi’s government is under tremendous pressure to win back black money from abroad to fulfill its poll promises in the run up to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. A 90-days black money window it announced last year yielded undisclosed foreign assets of only about Rs 3,770 crore from 638 declarations, a mere fraction of the total stock of blackmoney believed to be stashed abroad.
It is important to note that the Panama list also shows the apparent failure of the the 90-days black money window offered last year to draw foreign blackmoney holders. The fate of the 90-day black money scheme was not too hard to anticipate since no one with ill-gotten wealth or unaccounted wealth would want to sacrifice 60 percent of their money to comply with the government regulations. They would find a way out by the time the arms of the law reach their bank lockers in tax havens.
Finance minister, Arun Jaitley had warned in tough words that it will not leave any stone unturned to take action against the guilty. "Those who chose to declare between this period would not be prosecuted under the new black money law... These declarants can now sleep well." Jaitley said, adding, "those with illegal assets abroad, who have failed to make declaration, would now stand the risk of information relating to them eventually reaching the Indian taxation authorities."
It is not known whether any individuals whose names are included in the Panama list are among the declarants of the 90-days black money window that expired on 30 September, 2015. If they aren't and if investigations find that they are indeed tax-evaders, its time for Jaitley to do what he said he would do.