As many as 500 Indians allegedly figure in an unprecedented leak of more than 11.5 million documents from the files of law firm Mossack Fonseca, based in the tax haven of Panama. Investigations have revealed how the world’s fourth biggest offshore law firm helped hundreds of thousands of offshore clients, foundations and trusts launder money and dodge tax.
The documents were obtained by the German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung and were shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).
The Indian Express, which is among 107 media organisations in 78 countries that has access to the documents, has revealed that as many as 500 Indian names figure on Fonseca's list of offshore clients, including those of politicians, businessmen and movie stars.
The list allegedly includes the names of film stars Amitabh Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, along with her family members, according to the front page report in Express today. An eight-months-long investigation has revealed that corporates, including DLF owner KP Singh and nine members of his family and Gautam Adani’s elder brother Vinod Adani, are also part of the list. Shishir Bajoria and Anurag Kejriwal are the politicians whose names allegedly come up in the list.
ICIJ is the international arm of the Center for Public Integrity, an American nonprofit investigative journalism organisation.
The leaked "Panama Papers" cover a period of almost 40 years, from 1977 until as recently as last December, and allegedly show that some companies domiciled in tax havens were being used for suspected money laundering, arms and drug deals, and tax avoidance, the Reuters reported.
In an introduction on its website, the ICIJ stated that its investigation exposed email chains, invoices and documents that make up the Panama Papers, behind which are often "unseen victims of wrongdoing enabled by this shadowy industry". It has also implicated world leaders. A network of secret offshore deals and loans worth $2 billion have allegedly led to Russian president Vladimir Putin.
The company has so far said its offshore companies are used for legitimate purposes and said it conducts thorough due diligence and regrets any misuse of its services, reported BBC.
“Our firm, like many firms, provides worldwide registered agent services for our professional clients (e.g., lawyers, banks, and trusts) who are intermediaries. As a registered agent we merely help incorporate companies, and before we agree to work with a client in any way, we conduct a thorough due-diligence process, one that in every case meets and quite often exceeds all relevant local rules, regulations and standards to which we and others are bound,” the company said in a statement.
Express claimed it checked the authenticity of over 300 addresses of Indians on the list. Other names include that of Mumbai ganglord, the late Iqbal Mirchi, and businessmen with addresses in nondescript neighbourhoods in Panchkula, Dehradun, Vadodara and Mandsaur, the report said.
The firm works with some of the world’s other biggest financial institutions, such as HSBC, Société Générale, Credit Suisse, UBS, and Commerzbank, in some cases to help the banks’ clients set up complex structures that make it hard for tax collectors and investigators to track the flow of money from one place to another, the investigations revealed.
The Reserve Bank Of India has strict guidelines for overseas direct investments.
While it has given permission to buy and sell shares under the Liberalised Remittance Scheme, it clarified through an FAQ updated in October, 2015, "a resident Indian can remit, up to the limit prescribed by the Reserve Bank from time to time, per financial year under the LRS, for permitted current and capital account transactions including purchase of securities and also setting up/acquisition of JV/WOS overseas with effect from August 5, 2013 (vide Notification No. 263)."
But in most cases, Express revealed, companies were set up long before the rules were changed.
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