A vast leak of financial documents could expose the secret wealth of hundreds of rich Indians, including politicians, corporate heavyweights and entertainment leaders, who are suspected to have used offshore tax havens to dodge taxes.
“Paradise Papers”, as they are being called by a collective of international journalists who pored over it for months and presented their findings on Sunday night, is a clutch of records and internal communications from Bermuda’s Appleby and Singapore’s Asiaciti.
Indian Express, one of the organisations reporting findings from the documents, identified former and current ministers, members of parliament, a steel conglomerate and a prominent Bollywood icon as names from India that figure in the documents.
India ranks 19 out of the 180 countries represented in the data in terms of the number of names. “In all, there are 714 Indians in the tally,” the report said in its front-page report published in the Monday edition.
Figuring in the documents — 13.4 million records — does not necessarily mean the people named are involved in crimes, Indian Express reported in an explainer.
“Normally, a company is entitled to arrange its financial affairs in whichever way it wishes to reduce its tax liability. Merely the fact that the motive for a particular transaction is to avoid tax does not invalidate the transaction unless the law of the land specifically says so. There is a corporate army engaged in imaginative bookkeeping to discover and exploit legal loopholes and evade tax under the corporate veil,” it said.
Appleby and Asiaciti are among the “corporate army” that help companies and individuals set up businesses, make investments and carry out financial operations. Such firms usually specialise in law, chartered accountancy and banking.
Data from Appleby and Asiaciti were obtained by German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung, which shared it with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.
The revelations could give clues to regulators and financial investigators to shift focus on individuals and organisations as India strengthens its efforts to catch tax dodgers.
Some of the revelations in the Paradise Papers include millions of pounds from Queen Elizabeth II’s private estate that has been invested in a Cayman Islands fund and some of her money that went to a retailer accused of exploiting poor families and vulnerable people.
The documents also detail extensive offshore dealings by US President Donald Trump’s cabinet members, advisers and donors, including substantial payments from a firm co-owned by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s son-in-law to the shipping group of the US Commerce Secretary, Wilbur Ross.
Social media giants Twitter and Facebook received millions in investments that can be traced back to Russian state financial institutions along with aggressive tax avoidance by multinational corporations, including Nike and Apple, the documents also purported to reveal.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s chief wealth manager is also among people figuring in the papers.