Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Swiss accounts: Yash Birla, City Limo chief, Ponty son-in-law among five new names


The names of these 5 "Indian nationals" have been made public in Switzerland's Federal Gazette with regard to details sought about them by the Indian authorities.


Industrialist Yashovardhan Birla, City Limousine chairman Sayed Mohamed Masood and his wife Chand Kauser Mohamed Masood are among five Indian nationals with Swiss bank accounts whose names have been made public in Switzerland’s official gazette with regard to ongoing tax probes in India.

(According to PTI, the other two are Gurjit Singh Kochar, son-in-law of late realty baron Ponty Chadha, and Delhi-based businesswoman Ritika Sharma).

On Monday, Sneh Lata Sawhney, wife of Sawhney Tyres managing director Bhushan Lal Sawhney, and Sangita Sawhney were named.

Details of the money lying in Yashovardhan Birla’s account have not yet been made public — his name figured in the list of HSBC, Geneva account holders, published in February this year by The Indian Express as part of its ‘Swiss leaks’ investigation.

When The Indian Express sought Birla’s comment, a spokesperson for the Yash Birla Group, in an email response, said Birla had no individual bank account in his name or under his control. This, the spokesperson said, had been explicitly confirmed earlier by the Swiss bank in writing and the same had already been communicated to Indian tax authorities.

In January 2014, the Income-Tax department had searched the offices of the Yash Birla Group for alleged tax evasion.

Following the I-T probe, the economic offences wing (EOW) of the Mumbai police filed an FIR against Birla Power Solutions Ltd, a Yash Birla Group company under sections 420 and 120-B of the Indian Penal Code for allegedly defaulting on repayment of fixed deposits to its investors. The company, according to police, had also defaulted on interest payment to investors. Police said the company owed around Rs 214 crore to 8,800 investors. Immovable properties of Birla Power Solutions, worth the same amount, were attached. The company said it raised money and paid investors.

Based on the EOW investigations, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) launched a probe under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA). On January 19 this year, the adjudication authority of ED, in an order, said the company was diverting investor funds raised for a power project to unrelated land transactions.

According to the ED order, Birla Power Solutions Ltd, over a period of four years between March 2009 and March 2013, diverted Rs 180 crore of investor funds to six other group companies through multiple transactions involving eight bank accounts. Rejecting the allegations made by ED, the Yash Birla Group challenged the order before the appellate tribunal.

In the case of Masood, the ED had sought repatriation of funds in the case of Masood and his wife.

A senior ED official said at least US $1.25 million has been found in two Swiss accounts maintained by Masood and his firm.

“After obtaining information from the Swiss authorities on Masood, we have now placed a request with the Swiss government for repatriation of the money lying in Masood’s accounts. We are hopeful that our request, which is currently pending, will be accepted soon,” the ED official said.

Phone calls and text messages to Masood did not elicit a response until Tuesday evening.

The ED has registered a case under the PMLA against City Limousine and Masood for running an alleged ponzi scheme. It is alleged that two City Group companies, City Limousine and City Realcom, collected over Rs 500 crore from investors, promising unrealistic returns. The companies later defaulted on payment to investors, the ED said. The ED has attached movable and immovable properties of the companies and promoters to the tune of Rs 150 crore.

Indian names are being published in the Swiss federal gazette as a result of domestic references being sent by Indian tax authorities.

The references for which notices are being dispatched by Swiss authorities, following a change in Swiss procedural laws, include cases related to Indian HSBC Geneva account holders as well as others against whom authorities had established that assets existed in Switzerland but were not declared for taxation. The provisions of the Double Taxation Avoidance Treaty, signed by the two countries in 2011, paved the way for the current action.

Officials in the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) said domestic references, with all documentation attached, had been sent to Switzerland for all 628 HSBC account holders, which had been received by India, as well as a large number of other references in evasion cases.

This number, sources said, could well be over 100 cases involving a large number of Indian businessmen and celebrities.

Under pressure from India and other countries, Swiss federal offices began dispatching notices in April to suspected tax evaders, asking them if they had objection to their account or asset purchase details being handed over to India. Recipients of notices have been given a month to send in replies. Should they decline authorisation for release of information, India has the right to appeal.

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