Actors Amitabh Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, industrialists KP Singh and Sameer Gehlaut, attorney Harish Salve, and a number of politicians are among 500 Indians named for having hidden offshore assets in a massive data leak and international journalistic investigation by over 100 media groups.The eight-month-long investigation, which came from an anonymous source through German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung, has scrutinized over 11 million confidential documents dubbed the Panama Papers, and was shared globally by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), of which The Indian Express is the Indian partner. The documents themselves, which identified over 200,000 offshore entities covering around 40 years, have come from Mossack Fonseca, a Panama-based law firm. Apart from Mr. Bachchan and his compatriots, the "Panama Papers," which is being described as "the world's biggest leak," also contains names of global leaders like Xi Jinping, Nawaz Sharif, and Vladimir Putin, martial arts star Jackie Chan and soccer legend Lionel Messi.
Amitabh Bachchan, arguably the Indian subcontinent's most admired entertainer, was appointed the director of at least four offshore shipping companies set up in 1993 in the British Virgin Islands and the Bahamas, according to The Indian Express.
"The authorized capital of these companies ranged between $5,000-$50,000, but they traded in ships worth millions of dollars."The septuagenarian superstar's daughter-in-law and fellow Bollywood actor Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and her family members were registered in 2005 as directors of Amic Partners Limited. Her status, however, was later changed to share holder prior to the closing down of the company in 2008. KP Singh, owner of Real estate giant DLF, and his family members own three offshore entities, which together is worth almost $10 million. A close examination of the Panama Papers by The Indian Express also reveals details of previously unknown deals, in some cases involving the government too, including cricket franchise deals. Shishir K Bajoria, an industrialist and leader of the Hindu nationalist ruling party, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is one of the politicians implicated in the Mossack Fonseca leak.
According to Indian laws, its citizens were barred from setting up overseas entities until 2003, as the Reserve Bank of India, India's central banking institution, revised its regulations only in 2004. Further, until 2013 Indians were not allowed to possess or even contribute to an offshore bank account.
Although Mr. Bachchan has not commented on the revelations yet, Archana Sadanand, the media adviser of Ms. Rai Bachchan, has rejected the documents as "totally untrue and false."
"What is this consortium [ICIJ] and what does it do? If this an authorized entity, how do we know the information they get is authentic (sic)? All information that you have given is totally untrue and false."
The Panama Papers disclosures have surfaced at a time when the Narendra Modi government is under fierce pressure from opposition parties for its "failure" to bring back the black money parked in various overseas banks, as promised during the 2013 union election. The exposé also invites embarrassment for the Indian Prime Minister as Indian media have recently speculated that Mr. Modi is planning to nominate Amitabh, fondly called Big B, for the next president of India.
While this report is being written, NDTV, India's leading 24X7 news channel, reports that the Prime Minister has ordered an investigation into the 500 Indians, including Mr. Bachchan, who are named in the "Panama Papers." The government stressed that it "welcomes" the information disclosed by ICIJ and that a team with experts on tax and foreign exchange transactions will coordinate with financial crime-fighting agencies to look into "the flow of information in each one of the cases."[Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images]