The multi-agency group (MAG) probing the Panama Papers will be reconstituted to monitor a probe and take “swift action” on Paradise Papers which uncover financial holdings abroad that list a number of Indian entities, the finance ministry said on Monday. The announcement came hours after the release of the first set of Indian corporates in the ongoing investigation by The Indian Express in collaboration with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung. Speaking to The Indian Express, finance minister Arun Jaitley said the publication of the links “was a great development because it shows that (now) nothing remains a secret”. He added: “With this, the secrecy of tax havens and transactions done through them have been smashed. The worldwide publication also shows that those who think they are indulging in what they think are undercover financial transactions are highly mistaken. What has happened (the publication of the Paradise Papers) is a very good development for India and this will further encourage cooperation between countries on financial matters at an international level. It is a step towards further transparency and cooperation.” His views were echoed by chairman of Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) Sushil Chandra who has been made the head of the Paradise papers probe team which will have representatives from the CBDT, the Enforcement Directorate, the Reserve Bank of India and the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU).
Chandra told The Indian Express: “The tax department has already been put on the job and the tax profile of all the Indians named in the Paradise Papers will now be put under scrutiny. All cases will be put under examination, just as they were in the Panama Papers published last year.” The CBDT chief added that in some cases where enforcement agencies were already probing financial irregularities, their task would be to see if a wider probe was needed.
“The scope of cases which are already under the remit of agencies like the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and which have figured in the Paradise Papers will be widened further. I would like to add that our experience with other such exposes is that replies from foreign offshore jurisdictions are coming in at a faster pace as a result of better international cooperation and also because of the pattern of references we have been sending. This will take that process further and we will try and submit our references to offshore destinations mentioned (in the Paradise papers) as soon as possible.”
The cache of 13.4 million documents named “Paradise Papers” tumbled out 18 months after Panama Papers. In India, The Indian Express, just as it did with the Panama Papers, investigated these records for over 10 months to come up with the India findings which are being published in a series of over 40 investigative reports that begin last night.
A bulk of the records investigated are from Bermuda law firm Appleby. This 119-year-old company helps set up offshore companies and manage bank accounts for clients to do one or a combination of the following: avoid or evade taxes; manage real estate assets; open escrow accounts, purchase airplanes and yachts paying low tax rates or, simply, use offshore vehicles to move millions across the globe.
Among the 180 countries represented in the data, India ranks 19th in terms of the number of names. In all, there are 714 Indians in the tally. Besides Appleby, the leaked documents include files from the smaller, family-owned trust company, Asiaciti (Singapore), and from company registries in 19 secrecy jurisdictions.