KOLKATA, 18 JUNE: Some of Kolkata’s best-known businessmen have parked money in secretive offshore tax havens, a recently released online database of companies, trusts and funds suggests.
The data was made public on the web by the Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and it’s just a portion of the 2.5 million files leaked to them that provide details on where some of the richest people in the world are keeping their cash.
On 16 June, a senior official from the Finance Ministry told PTI that India had asked a number of foreign jurisdictions for details about accounts, after a number of reports by ICIJ that named high-profile Indians with offshore entities.
This could cause concern to as many as 35 individuals in Kolkata, including real estate developers, exporters and other businessmen, who are linked in the database to a number of amusingly named offshore entities.
For Indians, the legality of using tax havens depends on how much money is transferred, how entities are set up, and whether anything is hidden from income-tax officials here, tax experts say.
Among those Kolkata addresses named by ICIJ is one linked to real estate tycoon Mr Sanjay Jhunjhunwala, chief executive officer of the Mani Group and a managing committee member of the Bengal chapter of the Confederation of Real Estate Developers Association of India.
In the database, an individual named Mr Sanjay Jhunjhunwala with an address at Queens Park in Kolkata, is listed as a shareholder of the offshore entity Tiger Woods International Ltd incorporated in 2006 in the British Virgin Islands (BVI), a British overseas territory in the Caribbean Sea with a population of less than 28,000. Employees at Mani Group said the Queens Park address is one of their offices. Mr Jhunjhunwala’s assistant, Ms Sudarshana Ganguly, said her boss “has no connection whatsoever with any BVI entity”. Mr Yashovardhan Lohia, the chief executive officer of Chamong Tea Exports, which owns 13 tea estates in Darjeeling and four in Assam, also had a couple of offshore entities in the British Virgin Islands.
He was the shareholder and beneficial owner of Golden Charm Universal Ltd, and the shareholder and director of Golden Success Offshore Inc, which are now defunct, the database shows. He also didn’t respond to an email for comment. There are also a number of traders in the list, including Mr Rajendra Mansinghka and Mr Rishab Mansinghka, the father and son duo who run the Mansinghka Group which deals in import and export of edible oils as well as a bit of construction.
Mr Rajendra Mansinghka said, “That was long back in 2002-3, and it doesn’t exist anymore.” The database, though, lists the incorporation date as July 2005, and notes that as of 2010 it was still active.
Mr Manish Agarwal, who is the founder of financial services provider Leverage Capital Group, and is also involved with microfinance NGO Anjali, is listed as the “master client” of an entity called Bluegrass Universal Ltd in the British Virgin Islands. It was active as of 2010, according to the database. He didn’t respond to a request for comment. Mr Brij Mohan Garodia and his wife Ms Neera Garodia, and Adarsh Garodia are listed as shareholders of Blessed Legacy Ltd in the British Virgin Islands. The Garodia family run IAC Electricals which provides hardware for transmission lines, and lists among its clients different state-owned companies like West Bengal State Electricity Transmission Company Limited, as well as private enterprises.
“It’s all false. I don’t have any account whatsoever. I am not involved at all in any of this,” said Mr Brij Mohan Garodia, who is also associated with Lions Clubs International. “Probably, somebody else might have used my name. I deny all these things.”
The ICIJ says “there are legitimate reasons to use offshore companies and trusts” but that it aims to “strip away the secrecy of the offshore system” which “serves the public interest by bringing accountability to an industry that has long operated in the shadows.”