Bollywood superstars Amitabh Bachchan and his daughter-in-law, former Miss World Aishwarya Rai as well as Pakistan’s millionaire Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif are among hundreds of world leaders, sports figures and celebrities believed to have used off-shore tax havens in the Caribbean to hide billions of dollars in assets.
The list of names was revealed through the so-called ‘Panama Leaks’, an unprecedented leak of more than 11 million documents from a law firm named Mossack Fonseca which administers offshore accounts for individuals and firms.
Mossack Fonseca is believed to operate in tax havensincluding Switzerland, Cyprus and the British Virgin Islands, and in the British crown dependencies Guernsey, Jersey and the Isle of Man.
Documents from the firm were leaked to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.
The data include emails, financial spreadsheets, passports and corporate records revealing the secret owners of bank accounts and companies in 21 offshore jurisdictions, from Nevada to Hong Kong to the British Virgin Islands.
It is the largest cross-border media collaboration ever undertaken.
Journalists working in more than 25 languages dug into Mossack Fonseca’s inner affairs and traced the secret dealings of the law firm’s customers around the world.
They shared information and hunted down leads generated by the leaked files using corporate filings, property records, financial disclosures, court documents and interviews with money laudering experts and law-enforcement officials.
According to the Indian Express, other Indian names that cropped up during the investigation include K P Singh, the billionaire owner of real estate behemoth DLF, Vinod Adani – brother of Adani Group founder Gautam Adani; Indiabulls founder Sameer Gehlaut, West Bengal politician Shishir Bajoria, former chief of the Delhi unit of Loksatta Party Anurag Kejriwal and the now-deceased Mumbai crime boss Iqbal Mirchi.
The Express was part of the investigation which was named ‘Project Prometheus’.
A statement from the newspaper said: “Some of the Indians floated offshore entities at a time when laws did not allow them to do so; some have taken a technically convenient view that companies acquired is not the same as companies incorporated; some have bunched their annual quota of remittances to subscribe to shares in an offshore entity acquired at an earlier date. Still, some others have received income earned abroad and deposited it in the entity to avoid tax. Some have opened a bank account to keep payoffs in government contracts, or held “proceeds of crime” or property bought with money made illegally in Trusts/ Foundations.”
The report suggests that many of the Indians, featured in this leak and who set up these offshore entities prior to 2013, are likely in violation of the Reserve Bank of India’s Liberalised Remittance Scheme — introduced in February 2004.
While hiding money away in off-shore accounts is not illegal, it does raise questions over ethics as well as facilitating criminality.
According to the Indian Express, the leaked files show that Amitabh Bachchan was appointed director in at least four offshore shipping companies.
These companies had been set up in tax havens, with one of them being in the British Virgin Islands and the other three in the Bahamas.
According to the report, the authorised capital of these four companies — Sea Bulk Shipping Company Ltd in the British Virgin Islands, and Lady Shipping Ltd, Treasure Shipping Ltd and Tramp Shipping Ltd in the Bahamas — ranged from $5,000-50,000 but they traded in ships worth millions of dollars.
The four companies had been registered in tax havens in 1993.
In another report, the Indian Express revealed, that for at least three years, Bachchan’s daughter in-law Aishwarya and her family were part of a company incorporated in the British Virgin Islands.
The Bollywood actress, her father Kotedadi Ramana Rai Krishna Rai, mother Vrinda Krishna Raj Rai and brother Aditya Rai were appointed in 2005 as directors of Amic Partners Limited, a firm with an initial authorised capital of $50,000.
According to the report, internal instructions exchanged between the Panama firm’s staff stated: “One of the shareholders requested to shorten her name from Ms Ashwaria Rai (sic) to Ms A Rai for reasons of confidentiality.
The same was mutually agreed and consented by all directors and shareholders.”
Her status was later changed to that of a shareholder and the offshore company was later dissolved in 2008.
Intriguingly, Mr Bachchan tweeted during a so-called “Black Money” investigation in India in 2013: “Honesty pay taxes on what you earn and avoid the pressures of investigation”.
He is yet to comment on the Panama Leaks allegations.
The actor is among some 500 Indians named in the leaks.
In neighbouring Pakistan some 140 politicians have been named.
While Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has not been directly implicated, the report reveals that Hussain and Hasan Nawaz Sharif, and Mariam Safdar, the sons and daughter of the PM, set up at least four offshore companies in British Virgin Islands.
These companies owned at least six upmarket properties overlooking London‘s Hyde Park.