New Delhi: Rejecting allegations of claiming "bogus" tax benefits, media baron Raghav Bahl on Friday said all business gains and losses have been duly declared in his tax returns and the raids by the Income Tax Department against him and his companies were a "clear frame-up."
The Income Tax Department on Thursday searched media baron Raghav Bahl's home and office in connection with a case of alleged tax evasion, officials said. A team of I-T sleuths raided Bahl's premises in Noida and are looking for documents and other evidence related to a case of "bogus long-term capital gains (LTCG) received by various beneficiaries", they said.
Bahl, who was in Mumbai, had issued a statement on Thursday that he was on his way to Delhi and his wife and mother were confined to the residence and not allowed to speak to anybody.
On Friday, Bahl claimed that "private contractors" were deployed by the tax sleuths to clone digital data during the searches as he raised questions about its privacy.
Bahl, the founder of The Quint news portal, issued a nine-point clarification on what he called an "interrogation" by the tax sleuths on Thursday when they searched his office and residential premises in Noida for gathering evidences as part of their probe against him on tax evasion charges, primarily over claiming fake Long Term Capital Gains (LTCG).
LTCG is broadly defined as the tax paid on profit generated by an asset such as real estate, shares or share-oriented products held for a particular time-frame.
"All these and other gains/losses were fully detailed/declared in the appropriate year of tax filings and more importantly, were accepted and assessed to tax, under this very government," Bahl said. "So the attempt to 'colour' our tax returns, now, as 'bogus', is clearly a frame-up, and we shall take every legal recourse to protect our fair name and reputation in this case," Bahl said.
The media entrepreneur said he was making public the "facts" on various personal and official transactions suo motu as he feared an "imminent possibility that more such frame-ups shall be attempted now".
Bahl said Rs 3.56 lakh cash and "modern and ancestral jewellery" worth Rs 33 lakh were recovered by the taxmen during the searches and these were entirely from his 82-year-old mother's cupboard. "All of these assets are duly assessed and declared in past returns. Is it really that surprising that people of that age/generation feel more secure holding such a moderate amount within physical proximity?," he said.
Bahl added his family purchased a flat in London from the "legally permitted LRS remittances" and all of this has been fully declared in their income tax filings. He claimed the raids went on for about "23 incessant hours" and nearly 500 journalists and other professionals of the Quintillion Media Group were "held to the most intrusive ransom by India's tax officers."
In his statement, Bahl said questions were asked to them by the Income Tax Department team about their transactions with Reliance Industries Limited, a joint venture with Viacom18 group and about BloombergQuint and they "promptly" shared all documents and past emails. He added that simultaneous surveys were also carried out at their investee companies, which he claimed was nothing but a "fishing expedition."
"We reiterate that we are absolutely in the clear, that we shall mount a robust legal defence against every trumped-up charge that is brought against us; that we are making these disclosures to pre-empt further character assassination against us, to thwart attempts through leaks, plants, and trolls," he said in the statement.
Three 'beneficiaries' of LTCG gains arrested
The income tax officials had said on Thursday that apart from Bahl, three other "beneficiaries" of the alleged bogus LTCG claims -- J Lalwani, Anoop Jain and Abhimanyu -- were searched as part of the same action. The LTCG broadly refers to the amount of profit generated by an asset such as real estate, shares or share-oriented products held beyond a particular time period.
The tax officials had said the business links of these companies with offshore entities were also being investigated.
After the raid on Bahl, he had also issued a statement to the Editor's Guild of India, saying:
"I have a matter of great concern to share with the Guild. While I was in Mumbai this morning, dozens of IT officials descended on my residence and The Quint's office for a "survey". We are a fully tax compliant entity, and will provide all access to all appropriate financial documents. However, I have just spoken to the officer on my premises, one Mr Yadav, and requested him, strongly, to not try and pick up or see any other mail/document which is likely to contain very serious/sensitive journalistic material. If they do that, then we shall seek extremely strong recourse. I do hope the EG will back us on this, and thereby set a precedent for any such exercise that may happen on any other journalistic entity in the future. They should also not misuse their smartphones to take unauthorised copies of this material. I am now on my way back to Delhi."
It is understood that the searches are being conducted at the premises of a few other people as part of the ITD action to probe tax evasion by a set of business professionals.
--With PTI inputs