498 Indians hold offshore A/Cs in tax havens

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NEW DELHI: A database of one lakh offshore entities in tax havens owned by, among others, 498 Indians with addresses in upscale enclaves in major cities, generated a huge buzz on Saturday with agencies expected to try and decipher the disclosures.

The last tranche of disclosures came out in April, among them were names of industrialists Vijay Mallya and Ravikant Ruia and Congress MP Vivekanand Gaddam, although nothing incriminating has been found about any of their offshore entities.

The database on secret companies, trusts and funds created in tax havens such as British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands and Cook Islands — published by The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) — has been made accessible online.

Given the heated political debate on black money in India, the disclosures are expected to lead to renewed calls for information received from countries such as France, Germany and Japan be made public. So far, the government has said that the nature of international agreements prevents it from doing so.

Among the owners with Indian addresses, 194 are from Mumbai (or Bombay), the highest among all the cities. New Delhi is second in that list with 113 owners of offshore entities. The remaining cities, in the descending order of the number of owners, are Kolkata (39), Bangalore (36), Chennai (31), Hyderabad (13), Gurgaon (9) and Ahmedabad (7).

Responding to the new information from ICIJ about hidden off-shore wealth, Financial Transparency Coalition, a network of international NGOs, said that it confirmed “beyond reasonable doubt that the world’s financial system legitimizes industrial-scale tax avoidance, aids criminals and drug cartels and facilitates corruption up to the highest levels of our society”.

ICIJ, however, clarified that the people and companies mentioned in the database were not necessarily involved in tax avoidance or evasion. “There are legitimate reasons to use offshore companies and trusts,” it said, “ICIJ does not intend to suggest or imply that the people and companies included in the database have broken the law or otherwise acted improperly.”

The database is part of a cache of 2.5 million leaked offshore files ICIJ analyzed with 112 journalists in 58 countries. This is not a “data dump”, ICIJ said, as “it is a careful release of basic corporate information”.

The purpose of the “offshore leaks database” is only to make company ownership information transparent. ICIJ has therefore published the postal addresses of the owners without disclosing other personal data such as records of bank accounts and financial transactions, emails and other correspondence, passports and telephone numbers.

Within days of ICIJ’s April release of dozens of stories, French president Francois Hollande called for the “eradication” of tax havens. Europe’s largest economic powers – the UK, France, Spain, Italy and Germany – announced that they will start exchanging bank information.

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