11 million leaked documents — several times larger than the WikiLeaks cables — from a Panamanian law firm have revealed offshore accounts linked to the world’s most prominent people; hundreds of Indians have been named so far and the Centre has already set up a multi-agency probe, promising stringent action
New Delhi: Government yesterday declared that action will be taken against "unlawful" accounts held abroad by Indians and constituted a multi-agency group to continuously monitor information in the wake of the Panama Papers.
Arun Jaitley. Pic/PTI
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi discussed the issue with him yesterday morning and on his advice, the group has been set up, which includes officials from CBDT, RBI and FIU (Financial Intelligence Unit).
"The multi-agency group will comprise various government agencies – the CBDT, FIU, FT&TR (Foreign Tax and Tax Research) and RBI. They will continuously monitor these (accounts) and whichever accounts are found to be unlawful, strict action as per existing laws will be taken," he said.
Jaitley said after yesterday’s revelations, more names may come out in the next few days. "I welcome this investigation. I think it is a healthy step that these kind of exposes are being made," he said.
Under new law
The monitoring and investigation into the cases of 500 Indians being named in the leaked papers will be conducted under the stringent provisions of the new law to combat the menace of black money generated by Indians in foreign shores. The new anti-black money law, termed the Black Money (Undisclosed Foreign Income and Assets) and Imposition of Tax Act, 2015, was enacted last year and operationalised from July 1.
The paper trail
>> An investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and more than 100 other news organisations around the globe has revealed the offshore links of some of the world’s most prominent people.
>> The vast stash of records was obtained by German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung and shared with media worldwide by ICIJ.
>> The leaked records come from Mossack Fonseca, a little-known but powerful law firm based in Panama
Salve calls leaks ‘invasion of privacy’
Senior counsel Harish Salve, whose name appeared in the Panama Papers said he considers the media coverage around the issue as an invasion of his priavcy, since he has ensured transparency in his tax returns. Speaking to Legally India, he said, "Everything we have is declared. If it is declared, is it not the invasion of my privacy to publish all this?"
Revelation a crime: Mossack Fonseca
Panama City: The revelation of the "Panama Papers" detailing the off-shore structures of many wealthy clients is a "crime" and an "attack" on Panama, the law firm at the heart of the scandal has said.
"This is a crime, a felony," Ramon Fonseca, one of the founders of the Panamanian firm Mossack Fonseca, said yesterday.
"This is an attack on Panama because certain countries don't like it that we are so competitive in attracting companies," Fonseca said.
Meanwhile, Panama’s government said ina statement, "The Panamanian government will vigorously cooperate with any request or assistance necessary in the event of anylegal action occurring."
Bachchans, Adani among list of 500 that includes Putin, Sharif
The Panama Papers have exposed offshore dealings of Russian President Vladimir Putin, world leaders and celebrities including Barcelona forward Lionel Messi.
Amitabh Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai The Indian Express ran several pages of the investigation reports alleging among other names that Bollywood actors Amitabh Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai were directors in companies in Panama.
Vinod Adani Elder brother of industrialist Gautam Adani was also alleged to have set up companies in tax havens.
Nawaz Sharif’s family Sharif’s children Mariam, Hasan and Hussain “were owners or had the right to authorise transactions for several companies”.
Close associates of Putin
Putin, who is not himself named in the documents, “secretly shuffled as much as $2 billion through banks and shadow companies,” the ICIJ said.
The files allegedly show Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson and his wife secretly owned an offshore firm holding millions of dollars in Icelandic bank bonds during the country’s financial crisis.
Argentine football great Messi and his father owned a Panama company, Mega Star Enterprises Inc., a shell company that had previously not come up in Spanish investigations into the father and son’s tax affairs.
Francetvinfo named as the beneficiary of a Panama-based tax company, adding however that no illegal activity was alleged.
Moscow: The Kremlin yesterday slammed the Panama Papers leak as an attack aimed primarily at Russian President Vladimir Putin, claiming that former CIA officials helped analyse the papers. “Putin, Russia, our country, our stability and the upcoming elections are the main target, specifically to destabilise the situation,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. The Kremlin spokesman, who himself figures in the leaked documents, said there was “nothing new or concrete” about the Russian leader in the leaks, but blamed them on a mood of rampant “Putinophobia.” He dismissed the reports, saying “There is a lack of details,” while “all the rest is based on allegations and speculation.”