INDIA: Searches Conducted On Wealthy Named In Pandora Papers.

As published on ndtv.com, Thursday 7 April, 2022.

The Multi-Agency Group, which has been set up by the government to monitor investigations into the Pandora Papers case, has started cracking down on wealthy Indians named in the investigative report.

Three entities named in Pandora Papers have been searched by the Income Tax Department and more will soon face action, official sources said.

JCT Group's Samir Thapar, who is also a relative of late Congress leader Satish Sharma, as well as Hiranandani Group, were searched by Foreign Asset Investigation Unit (FIAU) last month.

FIAU was created last year to probe cases of undisclosed assets held by Indians abroad and also cases related to possession of black money in foreign shores.

FIAU had earlier searched family members and associates of Satish Sharma. Officials told that FIAU has got credible information of undisclosed foreign assets and black money stashed abroad by wealthy Indians.

International Consortium of Investigative Journalist (ICIJ) in an investigative report released in October 2021 claimed that 380 Indians are in the list of global elite who have been exposed for ring-fencing their wealth through shady financial transaction and using offshore tax heavens to hide assets worth millions of dollars.

The Pandora Papers revealed that former Union Minister Satish Sharma had several offshore entities and properties in his name. Mr Sharma had died last year.

At least 10 close relatives of Mr Sharma including his wife Sterre Sharma, children and grandchildren are among the beneficiaries of the Jan Zegers Trust set up by Mr Sharma in 1995 in Cayman Islands.

Hiranandani group is also latest entity to bear the brunt of the income tax department. FIAU searched around 25 premises located in 3 cities - Mumbai, Bengaluru and Chennai, related to Hiranandani Group.

Later a company spokesperson said, "The group has already clarified that the offshore trust/assets held by the family abroad is fully bonafide and compliant with all laws. Further, all queries of the authorities are being fully addressed and we assure our full cooperation in the matter."

Realty sector businessman and founder of Mumbai-based Hiranandani Group, Niranjan Hiranandani and some of his family members were beneficiaries of a trust with assets worth over $60 million, as reported by ICIJ. Pandora Papers shows that Hiranandani was the "reserve director" in firms set up by his Dubai-based son Darshan Hiranandani in the British Virgin Islands (BVI).

Name of Mr Thapar had also surfaced in the Pandora Papers. Notably, JCT Ltd had declared the offshore stakeholder as a non-promoter. This offshore entity is registered in the British Virgin Islands, where Mr Thapar is also the beneficial owner of another company. The offshore stakeholder Musk Holdings was set up in 2009 and has a stake in JCT Ltd.

The Multi Agency Group is headed by Chairman of the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) and it has representatives from CBDT, ED, RBI and FIU.

Sources said that the Multi Agency Group proactively engaged with foreign jurisdictions for obtaining information in respect of relevant taxpayers as well as entities before launching search operations.

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