Throughout his long career, Pranab Mukherjee has been known to be a hands-on kind of a guy but thanks to CS Karnan, even he is showing signs of turning himself into a buck passer. The absconder Judge has put many people in an unenviable position, not the least of them, the President as he keeps up relentless pressure in his fight against the Supreme Court judges from wherever his hideout is. With petitions from Karnan piling up on the in-tray on the President’s table, Mukherjee recently called a union minister to sound him out about the government to interfere in the matter and bring about an amicable settlement between the two sides. The Minister found the President’s request odd since it was a quarrel essentially between judges in which the government has no part. The Minister politely nodded his head and walked off, a clear indication that the government wanted nothing to do with the sticky messy affair. That was the last heard of the matter.
A special court has directed the CBI to respond by September 6 to the objections of Union Ministers Prakash Javadekar and Hansraj Ahir against its move to close a coal scam case.
Special Judge Bharat Parashar allowed the probe agency's plea seeking time to respond to the ministers' petition in a case allegedly involving Prakash Industries Ltd (PIL) and others as accused.
HRD Minister Javadekar and Minister of State for Home Ahir, who are complainants in case, had approached the court seeking rejection of the CBI's closure report and a direction to the agency to further investigate it and file a supplementary charge sheet.
In 2014, the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) had started its proceedings on the complaints made by the two ministers. The case was registered on the basis of CVC's reference, but after completing the probe, the CBI had filed a closure report in 2014 saying no incriminating evidence had come on record warranting prosecution of any accused.
The BJP leaders had alleged in their petition that the PIL had deliberately misrepresented facts to the 35th Screening Committee with the connivance of others to get the coal block in Chhattisgarh's Fatehpur allotted to it and the CBI had wrongly accepted the claims made by the accused. Their petition came in response to the court's earlier notice asking them whether they wanted to submit anything on the final report in the case.
The court had issued notices to both the ministers after CVC Director Sanjay Agarwal had informed it that the anti- graft watchdog was not a complainant in the matter and had no role to play in the case. It was these two leaders on whose complaint the CVC had started its proceedings, he had said.
The court had said that before accepting CBI's closure report, it was duty-bound to issue notice to the complainant. It had also directed the CVC to clarify its stand on the report.
According to the CBI's FIR, the Fatehpur coal block was allocated jointly to PIL and another firm by the 35th Screening Committee.
The FIR was lodged against PIL, its three officials, some officials of the Coal Ministry and others on the charge that the firm had misrepresented its net worth while applying for the block.
The FIR was registered under sections 120-B (criminal conspiracy) read with 420 (cheating) of the IPC and under the provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act.
The CBI had also alleged in its FIR that while the company had misrepresented facts relating to its net worth, the screening committee had deliberately not followed the guidelines and showed undue favour to it.
Massive searches, seizures and surveys by the Income Tax (IT) department over the last three years have led to the detection of around Rs 71,941 crore of "undisclosed income", the Centre has told the Supreme Court.
During the period of demonetisation from November 9 last year to January 10 this year, "The total undisclosed income admitted was more than Rs 5,400 crore" and the total quantity of gold seized stood at 303.367 kgs, the Finance Ministry has said in an affidavit to the apex court.
It gave the details of the unaccounted income for three years from April 1, 2014 to February 28 this year, including the demonetisation period.
The affidavit said that during the three year period, searches were undertaken by the IT department in over 2,027 groups "which led to the admission of undisclosed income of more than Rs 36,051 crore". "This is in addition to the seizure of undisclosed assets worth Rs 2,890 crore," it said.
Similarly between April 1, 2014 to February 28 this year, the IT department conducted more than 15,000 surveys which led to "the detection of undisclosed income of more than Rs 33,000 crore."
Highlighting the achievements of the demonetisation period, the affidavit said in about two months from November 9 last year, "significantly large number of enforcement actions were undertaken by the IT Department". "They included 1,100 searches and surveys and more than 5,100 verifications. The total seizure through these actions was of about Rs 610 crore, including cash of Rs 513 crore. The cash seizure included seizures in new currency of more than Rs 110 crore. The total undisclosed income admitted was more than Rs 5,400 crore," it said.
The Finance Ministry, which recently refused the demand to give more grace period for depositing the scrapped Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes, said the Ministry of Home Affairs in its July 11 communication has reported that as per intelligence agencies, there were reports of largescale misuse of the window for exchange of the demonetised currency notes. "Seizure of cash during the month of November and December 2016 was to the tune of Rs 147.9 crore and Rs 306.897 crore and seizure of gold for the month of November and December 2016 was 69.1 kg and 234.267 kg respectively," it said.
It said that over 400 cases were referred to the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) after several instances of manipulation for conversion of unaccounted cash held in specified bank notes into legal tender by various entities was detected during the investigation.
It’s a clear sign that the space Prannoy Roy used to claim that the raids on NDTV are part of a larger plan to muzzle the media is rapidly shrinking. Income Tax Appellate Tribunal (ITAT) officials have pointed out that it was the UPA regime that exposed the fraudulent declaration on subsidiary companies and its dubious financial transactions.
Roy, currently under the spotlight over NDTV’s financial dealings, had got a section of the media and eminences like Arun Shourie and several senior journalists to back his claim that his troubles are on account of a “hostile” government.
Take a look at what the ITAT said in its report of 2008-09 when the UPA, with whom the promoters of NDTV had a healthy relationship, was in power: “It is unfortunate that before making an application for exemption the assessee (Roy) has disclosed in its one of the most important statements i.e. Directors’ Report, the company has announced that it has been granted approval even when there was no application was made to the concerned authority and with such a blatant violation of law involving the fiscal and corporate liability of the assesse go unnoticed so far. However, the tribunal in the present case except expressing anguish cannot cross the limits laid down by the law. It is for other regulatory and supervisory agencies to get alarmed with such an act. In view of these glaring facts, we do not have any hesitation to say that the conduct of the assessee shows that assessee had never an intention to disclose the details of its subsidiary companies and its financial transactions to its stakeholders and to regulatory authorities including the income tax authorities.”
Tax authorities say that Roy made all efforts to hide financial details of his foreign subsidiary companies used for money laundering of Rs 1,100 crore so that tax fraud had remained undetected and had also lied to shareholders of NDTV and regulatory authorities- Income Tax, SEBI, etc. “The ITAT in its judicial order dated 14.07.2017 in the case of the NDTV for assessment year 2009-10, while dismissing the NDTV’s appeal as non-maintainable, has held that the assessing officer rightly made the assessment order by assuming jurisdiction u/s 144 of the Act.”
While addressing an “outrage session” at the Delhi Press Club, Roy had said that the $150 million that GE (USA) made in NDTV was above the board. “In 2014, the Income Tax Department of India - without any evidence at all - called this investment a "sham transaction", thereby accusing GE and NBC of being "fronts" or "name-lenders" for "money-laundering". ITAT that rejected this charge said that the issue was examined by a high-level body. “Examining the finding of Assessing officer and Dispute Resolution Panel (DRP), a body consist of three senior commissioners, noted that NDTV had introduced its own black money of Rs 642.54 crore ($150 million ) using its paper subsidiary company in the Netherland through complex web of transactions, the ITAT has confirmed the decision of Assessing Office and has also highlighted the role of Prannoy Roy, Radhika Roy and their top global audit firm PWC in the money laundering of Rs 642.54 crore.”
The Tribunal said its analysis of the financial statements of NHIH showed that this company “did not have any substance” but created for the purpose of issue of shares of Rs 642 crore from USBV by taking away the dividends from it to Roy’s group company. “It is vehemently claimed by the Roys that investor in NNIH is GE group. However, on looking at the structure of the investments in this company, it is part of NBCU group of which 80% stake is held by the GE group. There is no reference of the amount invested in the USBV by GE group for making investments in the USBV. No details have been placed by the Roys before us or before lower authorities except stating that the investor company is part of GE group and that group has made investment in this company which in turn invested in NNIH…. In any case credibility and genuineness of the investments cannot be solely determined by showing the names but only by showing the substance of the transactions…. It is apparent that transaction entered into by the parties lacks substance and therefore, whoever is the party and howsoever credible it is, heavier burden is cast on them to explain the purpose and rationale of so-called investment,” notes the ITAT report.
The ITAT report said that conversations between Prannoy Roy and M Vivek Mehra of PWC through emails exchanged barely two days before the signing of the agreement proved personal involvement of Roy in money laundering of Rs 642.54 crore.
Here are a few samples of the email between Roy and Mehra:
“Mr Vivek Mehra (PWC) to Dr Prannoy Roy & Others:
We must not mention that NDTV is receiving the 150 m as dividend or otherwise.
If asked a question what will the money be used for??? We need to decide how to answer this question carefully.
Dr. Prannoy Roy to M. Vivek Mehra (PWC):
If possible, it is important that the press release should make clear that the money comes in to NDTV and does not stay in Networks. It has been agreed that management control will always remain with NDTV Ltd.
Mr Vivek Mehra (PWC) to Dr Prannoy Roy & Others:
Appreciate your problems but honestly the problem could become worse if we give a handle to the tax authorities.”
Finally, the ITAT rejected the argument of NDTV that the money was routed through banking channels. “During the course of hearing before us the revenue department has produced the money trail as well as certain emails, which were not at all denied by the assessee. Therefore, in our view the assessee has submitted scanty details and also tried to hide certain facts by not denying or owning the emails exchanged. Further it is too naive to accept in the facts and circumstances of the case that any transaction carried out through banking channel should be believed as genuine. In fact the money mostly rout through banking channels only and for these transactions only various sections in the income tax act are incorporated dehorn the banking transactions such as section 69, 68 etc. It is only the banking transactions through which the tax evaders bring their unaccounted money into the books by creating or dealing with the entities/persons without substance.”
The “secular icon” that he is, Prannoy Roy has no difficulty getting senior editors and the Press Club after hours gang to sing chorus of protests about stifling of freedom of expression under the current regime. The tax authorities have enough on their hands to show that the case is at least eight years overdue.
Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti on Saturday lashed out at Farooq Abdullah for suggesting to seek help from US and China to settle the Kashmir dispute. She said that the National Conference would not have made such a statement if he wanted the state to prosper. “God, forbid, does Farooq Abdullah want our situation to be like Syria and Afghanistan where the Americans intervened.”
"Be it America or China, they should mind their own business. Wherever America intervened, you see (the situation in) Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq. China has its own vexing issue in Tibet. So, I think we have a map here which is that we, India and Pakistan, have to talk even after war. We have to talk bilaterally and what can America, Turkey or England do with us?" Mehbooba told reporters at Anantnag.
The chief minister was responding to a question on Abdullah's suggestion of a third-party mediation to resolve the Kashmir issue. Abdullah yesterday said India should take the help of ‘friends’ to resolve the issue.
Mehbooba asked Abdullah whether he wanted the situation in Kashmir to be similar to what it was in countries like Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq where the US had intervened. "They have played spoilsport in major issues of the world. See what they have made up of Syria, see the situation of Afghanistan and Iraq. God forbid, does Farooq (Abdullah) want our situation similar to them? Or he wants our state to prosper?" the CM asked.
She said that both India and Pakistan have to respect the agreements between the two countries to end the hostilities. "We should take forward Shimla and Lahore agreements the way our elder leaders like (former PM) Indira Gandhi and (former PM Atal Bihari) Vajpayee did. Everyday our soldiers and people die on border and the same happens (in Pakistan) as well. Some solution should come out for (ending) this and the solution will come only then when we, both the countries, respect these agreements," she said.
The CM said that dialogue is imperative as the two countries face pressing development issues. "We have to sit together and end poverty, provide our people with electricity, water and employment. India and Pakistan have to talk to each other," she said.
Earlier, the US had said that instead of waiting until ‘something happens’, it would try and ‘find its place in efforts to de-escalate strains between Pakistan and India’. Recently, China, the all-weather ally of Pakistan, had said that it was ‘willing to play a constructive role in improving relations between India and Pakistan’. Terming India and Pakistan important South Asian countries, Beijing had noted that the ‘situation in Kashmir has attracted the attention of the international community.’
(With inputs from PTI)