Niira Radia, the founder of Vaishnavi Communications whose taped telephone chats with some prominent people in India around eight years ago, including ministers, journalists and business tycoons became the matter of a probe, has now surfaced in the “Panama Papers” expose.
Her name (appearing as Nira Radia, in the documents investigated, minus the extra ‘i’) is allegedly linked to a company in British Virgin Islands, which her office has denied, The Indian Express reported on Wednesday.
In the article, as Part 3 of the expose on Indians having alleged offshore links, Radia is said to have figured prominently as a director in the 232 documents pertaining to the company listed in the tax haven, Crownmart International Group.
The list published by the newspaper on Wednesday also has the names of a top business tycoon in Bellary, a prominent industrialist and a chartered accountant — each of whom, which The Indian Express says were contacted for their responses, with many also sharing their versions.
Another article seeks to shows how the world’s largest currency note maker De La Rue had contracted a New Delhi businessman to help bag tenders in India, in return for a 15-percent commission.
The paper identifies the company as Aphra Consultants, linked to Somendra Khosla of New Delhi.
Amid these allegations, Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Governor Raghuram Rajan has said that not every off-shore company opened by an Indian national need be illegitimate, and that this would be the primary task of a probe team in which the central bank has been co-opted.
On Radia, the paper said: “An investigation of these papers shows the existence of one offshore entity owned by Radia, an International Business Company registered in the British Virgin Islands by Mossack Fonseka in 1994 named Crownmart International Group Limited.”
In response, her office said the said entity was set up by her late father Iqbal Narain Menon and that she was not a beneficiary. Also that Radia had disclosed her assets to the authorities in UK and India and that such information was personal and confidential for third parties.
In another article published on Wednesday, the newspaper said the Indian diamond merchants, who were probed earlier for having overseas accounts in Liechtenstein, British Virgin Islands and HSCB, have also surfaced in “Panama Papers”.
Prominent among them are Rosy Blue, one of the largest diamond traders in the world, and Chetan Mehta of the Belgium-based Gembel family.
The paper also reported that Harshad Ramniklal Mehta of Rosy Blue did not respond to its calls or queries, while Chetan Mehta said he has been a non-resident Indian living in Belgium and that the companies were shut longtime ago.
A part of the list, Hyderabad-based Moturi Srinivas Prasad said the off-shore entities were started as one dollar companies with the hope of doing business, but were closed.
Satish Modi of Modi Global was away from India, but an e-mail reply from his office said he is an NRI and laws were followed.
– Hyderabad-based businessman Bhavanasi Jaya Kumar who maintained he had nothing to do with offshore companies.
– UK-based Bhaskar Rao, whose son said the companies were not exactly active and that due procedures were followed.
– Civil construction business people Preetam Bothra and Sweta Gupta, with the latter when contacted, posing the query, as to why she should share any information with the newspaper.
– Ahmedabad-based Bhandari Ashok Ramdayalchand, with a response from someone at his residence that he was not interested in talking.
– Kolkata-based Ashok Malhotra who, the paper says, admitted to knowing about the off-shore accounts but kept changing his stories.
– Dehradun-based Sanjay Pokhriyal, who said the $10,000 endowment for a Panamanian fund allegedly linked to him was not his own money.
– Belary iron exporters Prasanna V. Ghotage and Vaman Kumar who the paper could not contact.
– Vadodara-based Pradeep Kaushikray Buch, who denied he had any such overseas company linked to him.
– Rahul Arunprasad Patel of Sintex Industries, who reportedly said he has several overseas companies but was not sure if the one named in the expose belonged to him.
– Thiruvananthapuram native and chartered accountant George Mathew, who said the linked companies belonged to clients and that Indian agencies had nothing to do with them.
The global expose has been conducted by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) along with over 100 global media organisations, dubbed the “Panama Papers”, based on millions of documents of a Panama law firm Mossak Fonseca that helped in setting up off-shore entities.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has already ordered a multi-agency probe team on the expose.