‘Benami’ assets worth Rs 300 crore of NCP leader Chagan Bujbal and his family have been attached by the Income Tax Department, which has slapped charges under a newly enacted criminal law against them. The department said the assets were allegedly created by them using a maze of about four dozen shell companies. In fresh trouble for the jailed former deputy chief minister of Maharashtra, the I-T department has issued notices for provisional attachment of assets of Bhujbal, his son Pankaj and nephew Sameer Bhujbal, and has identified them as “beneficiaries” of the alleged benami assets.
The attachment notice, accessed by PTI, has been issued under Section 24(3) of the Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Act, 2016 (where the taxman thinks the person in possession of the property held benami may alienate the property).
The immovable assets attached under the order include Girna sugar mills in Nashik valued at over Rs 80.97 crore and multi-storeyed residential building Solitaire in Mumbai’s Santacruz West area valued at more than Rs 11.30 crore. While the mills are in the name of Armstrong Infrastructure Pvt Ltd, the house is in the name of Parvesh Construction Pvt Ltd. The attachment also includes the Habib Manor and Fatima Manor building in Bandra West area of the Maharashtra capital valued at over Rs 43.61 crore (benamidar: Parvesh Construction Pvt Ltd) and a plot of land in Panvel in Raigad valued at over Rs 87.54 crore (benamidar: Devisha Infrastructure Pvt Ltd).
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While the total cost of the attached ‘benami’ assets has been valued at over Rs 223 crore, the department has said the “market value” of the assets is more than Rs 300 crore. The department has identified a total of 44 shell companies which “invested” funds in two of the three firms identified as ‘benami’ in the order. Violators of the law, enacted in 1988 but implemented from November 1 last year, attract a rigorous imprisonment of up to seven years and fine up to 25 per cent of the fair market value of the property.
Benami properties are those in which the real beneficiary is not the one in whose name the property has been purchased. The order, issued after over four months of investigations by a special I-T team, said the probe “clearly shows that the properties were acquired out of unexplained funds of the Bhujbal family, which was routed in guise of share at high premium in the group of companies of the Bhujbals, through a web of shell companies based out of Kolkata, Mumbai and other locations.”
The department has held that the “source of funds” of these companies of the Bhujbal’s is “fictitious” and “unexplained cash credit” under sections of the Income Tax Act, 1961. The order has also relied upon the statements recorded by the ED, under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), of “dummy operators” and Chartered Accountants of the Bhujbal Group to establish the benami assets charges. Chagan Bhujbal, the MLA from the Yeola assembly constituency in Nashik, and Sameer are at present lodged in the Arthur Road jail in Mumbai after they were arrested by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) last year in a money laundering case.
The I-T department will now move for confiscating these assets after getting approval from the Adjudicating Authority of the Act. The Act allows for prosecution of the beneficial owner, the benamidar, the abettor and the inducer to benami transactions. It also says that the assets held benami after final prosecution are liable for confiscation by the government without payment of compensation. The tax department, last month, had charged six family members of RJD chief Lalu Prasad, including wife, son and daughters, under the benami assets law in connection with its probe into land deals worth Rs 1,000 crore. As per official data till May 23, the I-T Department had identified 400 benami transactions in the country and provisional attachment of assets was done in about 240 cases.