Two years before he launched Amitabh Bachchan Corporation Limited (ABCL) in 1995, the Bollywood legend was appointed director in at least four offshore shipping companies.
Records of international law firm Mossack Fonseca, reviewed by The Indian Express, and subsequent inquiries show that the four companies, in which Bachchan was appointed director, were registered in tax havens — one in the British Virgin Islands and three in the Bahamas in November 1993.
The authorised capital of these companies — Sea Bulk Shipping Company Ltd (BVI), Lady Shipping Ltd, Treasure Shipping Ltd and Tramp Shipping Ltd (Bahamas) — ranged between a modest $5,000-50,000 but they traded in ships worth millions of dollars.
Bachchan was also managing director of all four companies. The other directors were representatives of firms that provide corporate and financial services. In all four cases, Warrant Secretaries Limited was appointed company secretary. Warrant Nominees Ltd and Warrant Services Ltd were issued 500 shares each.
All four companies were set up by founding directors Umesh Sahai and David Michael Pett who represented Jersey-based City Management Limited. Bachchan was appointed additional director in the very first board meeting of each company. The father-son duo of Trevor Robinson Donnelly and John Trevor Greer Donnelly, both financial consultants, were also made additional directors.
On December 15, 1994, Tramp Shipping Ltd (Bahamas) signed an investment agreement — deed of covenant — with Dallah Al-Baraka Investment Company Ltd (DAICO) of Jeddah-based Dallah Al-Baraka Group. An MF entry dated January 6, 1995 shows that a total of $1.75 million was advanced by DAICO to Tramp.
Along with the deed of covenant, the two companies also signed “a first priority deed of assignment of freight and earnings” and a “pledge and deposit agreement”. The latter was also signed by Constellation Ship Management (Bahamas) Ltd, owned by Captain Mehernoosh R Khajotia, as warrantor. The same day, on December 15, 1994, all 1,000 shares of Tramp Shipping Ltd was transferred to Constellation Ship Management Ltd (later renamed Constellation Shipping Ltd).
Khajotia shifted his base to India in 1998 and died in 2006. But a dispute between his Mumbai-based Polaris Group and DAICO reached the Bombay High Court in 2008.
Admitting a petition on December 17, 2009, the High Court noted that Khajotia owned Constellation Shipping (Bahamas), which “some time prior to 2000” was financed by DAICO for acquiring five ships. According to the petitioner, a group company of DAICO, the loans for three vessels were repaid and the outstanding debt of Constellation was $2.5 million.
Tramp Shipping Ltd had an authorised capital of $5,000. In September 1997, records show, Bachchan along with other directors of Tramp Shipping, resigned from the board. The company replaced them with directors provided by MF and, in November, sold a ship — MV Mattz Tramp — for over $2 million.
RESPONSE: Amitabh Bachchan and family did not respond to repeated emails sent to them and phone calls made to their mobile numbers, Mumbai residences and the AB Corporation office for over a week. An AB Corp executive confirmed receipt of the email from The Indian Express on March 28.
An Investigation by The Indian Express with International Consortium of Investigative Journalists & Suddeutsche Zeitung, Munich. For all the stories from around the world go to ICIJ.ORG