The Panama Papers are a set of leaked documents that reveal widespread fraud and tax evasion by individuals and corporate entities around the world.
The Enforcement Directorate (ED) has summoned actor Aishwarya Rai Bachchan for questioning in a case linked to the 2016 ‘Panama Papers’ global tax leaks case, officials said on 20 December. She is reportedly accused of stashing money abroad in violation of the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA).
The quizzing of the 48-year-old daughter-in-law of superstar Amitabh Bachchan and Samajwadi Party MP Jaya Bachchan comes weeks after her husband Abhishek Bachchan was questioned by the agency in another case emerging from the same set of papers linked to the offshore leaks case.
Aishwarya left the agency’s office after six hours of questioning and it’s unclear if she has been summoned on another day.
Why is Rai being questioned?
Reports state that the ED wants to question Aishwarya over allegations of stashing wealth abroad. The ED recorded Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s statement under the provisions of the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA). The former Miss World left the agency’s office located in Jam Nagar house in Delhi shortly after 7 pm. Officials said she was questioned for about six hours.
Aishwarya Rai Bachchan was stated by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), which had first reported on the Panama Papers, of having links with an offshore entity in the British Virgin Islands (BVI) that was created in 2005.
Her family was also stated to be part of this offshore entity that had an “initial authorised capital of $50,000.” The company was reportedly dissolved in 2008. Abhishek Bachchan has also been examined by the ED in the past in another instance linked to the offshore leaks case, sources said.
The actor allegedly exited the company in 2009, after which it was acquired by Dubai-based BKR Adonis. Earlier, too, the actor had been summoned for questioning, but she had sought time twice.
Some other instances of alleged irregularities linked to the family are also under the scanner of the federal probe agency, officials told PTI.
According to reports, Abhishek Bachchan was also questioned by the ED in the offshore leaks case in November.
The ED has been probing the case since 2016 when the global leaks came to light. It later issued notices to the Bachchan family asking them to explain their foreign remittances since 2004 under the Reserve Bank of India’s (RBI) Liberalised Remittance Scheme (LRS).
What are the Panama papers?
Dubbed ‘Panama Papers’, an investigation of a stockpile of records from Panamanian legal firm Mossack Fonseca by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists had named several world leaders and celebrities who had allegedly stashed away money abroad in offshore companies. Some of them are stated to be holding valid overseas accounts.
As per The Indian Express, the two big draws that offshore entities in jurisdictions such as the British Virgin Islands, Bahamas, Seychelles and more specifically Panama, offer are: secrecy of information relating to the ultimate beneficiary owner and zero tax on income generated.
Celebrities, businessmen and famous personalities of dozens of countries including India were named in the papers who were accused of money laundering. It had around 500 Indian names including Amitabh Bachchan, Aishwarya Rai, Ajay Devgun, Vijay Mallya, Harish Salve. Most wanted underworld don Iqbal Mirchi’s name was also mentioned in the papers.
This matter reached the Supreme Court and the Centre formed a multi-agency group (MAG) under the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) chairman for the Panama Papers case. The MAG consists of officials from the ED, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), and the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU).
The ED has been probing the Panama Papers case since the expose came out in 2016. As reported by The Indian Express, over Rs 20,000 crore worth of undeclared assets have been detected by the Income Tax authorities in connection with the Panama Papers investigation. In 2016 it came to light and the authorities came to know about the tax evasion by the accused and their alleged illegal properties. Now the matter is being probed by a Special Investigation Team.
The government had recently said that “total undisclosed credits of Rs 20,353 crore” have been detected with respect to 930 India-linked entities in the Panama and Paradise Paper Leaks, as of 1 October 2021.
With inputs from agencies