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Chandamama: From mythology tales to Swiss bank stash

It enthralled children with stories of Indian mythology for decades while narrating virtues of good deeds, but the 'Chandamama' magazine's new owners are now in the dock for allegedly stashing illicit funds in Swiss banks.

New Delhi: It enthralled children with stories of Indian mythology for decades while narrating virtues of good deeds, but the 'Chandamama' magazine's new owners are now in the dock for allegedly stashing illicit funds in Swiss banks.

Mumbai-based Geodesic Ltd, which acquired the iconic magazine in 2007, and its three directors are being probed by the Indian authorities for alleged money laundering and other financial irregularities and Switzerland has agreed to provide "administrative assistance" regarding their accounts in Swiss banks, which broadly means sharing of information with India.

Switzerland was widely known as an alleged safe haven for black money before it bowed down before the global pressure and agreed to bring down the famed secrecy walls that had historically surrounded the Swiss banks, provided the requesting country gave proof for financial irregularities done by the concerned person or the company.

Along with several other countries, India has also been making use of this change in stance of Switzerland by seeking details of suspected black money hoarders in Swiss banks and it has already got back information in a large number of cases in the last few years.

In a decision dated March 5, Switzerland's Federal Tax Administration (FTA) has decided to grant "administrative assistance to India in respect of Geodesic Ltd and its three directors -- Prashant Sharad Mulekar, Pankajkumar Onkar Srivastava and Kiran Kulkarni, according to the official documents.

As per the Swiss law, the FTA decision can be appealed within 30 days, provided the appellant is able to give sufficient ground to challenge it.

Earlier on October 30, 2018, also, the FTA had decided to provide the administrative assistance in respect of Geodesic Ltd and the three individuals. While that decision is appeared to have been challenged, the FTA has again decided to share the details with the Indian authorities, indicating that the earlier appeal could not sustain.

In a similar case, the FTA also decided on March 5 to provide administrative assistance' to India in case of a Chennai-based entity, Aadhi Enterprises Pvt Ltd. This decision can also be appealed within 30 days.

An earlier decision was taken by the FTA on October 16 to assist Indian authorities in this case, but now a fresh notification has been issued for providing administrative assistance to India in case of this real estate firm which saw a meteoric rise soon after being incorporated in November 2014 and is said to have got significant political links.

Geodesic, on the other hand, used to be a publicly-listed entity and has already faced the wrath of capital markets regulator Sebi for multiple violations. Its shares have not been trading since August 2014 when its share price had dipped to as low as Rs 1.50 apiece.

While the Swiss government documents did not disclose specific details related to the information and assistance sought by the Indian authorities regarding the two companies and the three individuals, such an 'administrative assistance' follows submission of proof about financial and tax-related wrongdoings and typically involves sharing of information relating to bank account details and other financial data.

Repeated attempts to contact the two companies and the three individuals for their comments failed to yield any result. In the past, they have denied any wrongdoing.

The 1982-incorporated Geodesic, once known as a fast-growing company with cutting-edge technology solutions, does not have a functional website anymore and is also no longer a listed entity as trading in its shares has been suspended by stock exchanges for "procedural reasons".

The company and its directors have faced regulatory action by Sebi as well as other authorities like the Enforcement Directorate and the Economic Offence Wing of the Mumbai Police.

Aadhi Enterprises had reportedly landed in trouble due to alleged links to tainted politicians and for allegedly indulging in money laundering.

According to reports, the Income Tax Department has conducted multiple raids on properties of the company's promoters.

While Switzerland has always denied being a safe haven for black money, it has begun sharing details for last few years with several countries including India after submission of evidence about financial and tax-related wrongdoings of the clients of Swiss banks.

Besides, a new framework of automatic information exchange has been now put in place and the details can be accessed under the new system from this year.