Media baron Raghav Bahl, whose Quintillion Media Group was raided by Income Tax (I-T) Department in Delhi, Noida and Bengaluru, has said that the government action was taken on "trumped-up charges" which the company will fight legally but warned other media colleagues to be vigilant against similar "state vendetta".
A day after his houses and office premises were raided by the I-T officials, he issued a statement saying “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”.
“We are making these disclosures to preempt further character assassination against us, to thwart attempts through leaks, plants, and trolls,” Bahl added, referring to the disclosures made of his property and assets in India and abroad in the statement.
He also questioned the use of private digital experts in a tax search.
“We warn our fellow news colleagues to be vigilant against similar state vendetta and end with thanking everybody who stood by us and supported us. This battle shall be fought, and not lost,” Bahl said in a joint statement issued by him, his wife Ritu Kapur and Quintillion Media Group.
“From 7.45 am on Thursday to 6 am on Friday, for 23 incessant hours, nearly 500 journalists and other professionals of the Quintillion Media Group, were held to the most intrusive ransom by India’s tax officers. However, we are immensely proud of our team, that gave them full access and cooperation, often pointing towards information and assets that they may have missed during their search/survey operations,” the statement read.
“But then, when we woke up after a 3-hour sleep, we were astonished to see that a blatant attempt had been made by the government’s spin-masters to say that the action was part of a year-long investigation into some Long-Term Capital Gains (LTCG) scam, whereby Raghav Bahl and Ritu Kapur had made ‘bogus’ income of Rs 118 crore,” it said.
Giving details of his side, Bahl said that all the gains and losses were “fully detailed/declared in the appropriate year of tax filings” and emphasised that they were accepted and assessed to tax, “under this very government”.
“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,” he said.
He said similar and simultaneous surveys were carried out at the investee companies including The News Minute (Bangalore), Quintype India (Bangalore) and Youth Ki Awaaz (Delhi).
“If the search/survey was linked to some transactions of ours that took place in 2014, then why were these investee companies searched in the same investigation? All of our investments in these companies have taken place after 2015 and we do not control them on a day-to-day basis. Then why were these companies targeted? Clearly, it was a fishing expedition, to spread the net wide, and somehow, somehow, catch something,” Bahl said.
Giving details of the recovery, he said all that was recovered was Rs 3.56 lakh in Indian currency, and jewellery worth around Rs 33 lakh in modern and ancestral jewellery, almost entirely from his 82-year-old mother’s cupboard.
He said all of these assets were duly assessed and declared in past returns.
Of the flat owned by the Bahls in London, he said since both their children expect to or have graduated from a University in London, they decided, as a family, to invest most of their legally permitted LRS remittances (currently at $ 250,000 per family member per year) in buying the flat.
“Accordingly, we made a booking in a new apartment building a few years back and pooled our annual LRS remittances for this purpose. All of this has been fully declared in Schedule F of our income tax filings,” he said.
Referring to RIL transaction, he said the focus then shifted to the sale of their shares in Network18 to Reliance Industries Limited in 2014.
“We promptly gave them a copy of the share sale agreement and full access to past emails on this subject. They followed up with several questions about the status of the current subsidiaries of Network18, and all we could say was that we have no access to any information after our exit, and they will have to reach out to Network18,” he said.
Bahl also gave details of Viacom18 and BloombergQuint (BQ) joint ventures as also denying any transactions with the Advantage Consulting or Artevea Digital (UK) or a person named C.B.N. Reddy.
“We had no clue that the digital experts used to clone data, and do other digital surveillance, during such raids, belong not to the tax department, but to private contractors! So where is the privacy of this key data? Who is responsible for its misuse? What indemnity do we have?
“This is an issue that requires serious deliberation and comment, and we reserve our right to take further action here. We will urge that this issue is taken up by privacy activists and concerned citizens,” Bahl said.
The Income Tax department ended its “surveys” over alleged tax evasion at the residence and office premises of Raghav Bahl after over 24 hours.
According to the officials, a team which reached the residence of Bahl — the former head of Network18 TV — in Noida in Uttar Pradesh on Thursday morning around 6 am left on Friday morning at around 7.30 am
However, it was yet not clear which documents and other evidence were seized by the I-T team.
A senior tax official said that surveys were also carried out at the premises of three other persons over the issue of “bogus long-term capital gains obtained from the sale of some particular companies. This issue is about Rs 100 crore worth. We are particularly looking at the tax evasion angle,” the official said.
The Editors Guild has expressed concern over the government action, saying “motivated income tax searches and surveys” will undermine media freedom.
The Guild noted that Bahl had to warn the officials that if they tried to touch anything not relevant to tax issues, he “shall seek extremely strong recourse”.
The tax official said the three others covered under the tax surveys were Kamal Lalwani, Anup Jain and Abhimanyu Chaturvedi.
In a note to the Editors Guild, Bahl had said The Quint was a “fully tax compliant entity” and would provide all access to all appropriate financial documents.
The Editors Guild said in a statement that while the Tax Department was “within its right to make inquiries”, it should not exercise its powers in a way that could be seen as an “intimidation of the government’s critics”.
It said it was “perturbed” over Bahl’s statement that he had to strongly advise the tax officials that they should not try and pick up or see any other mail or document which was likely to contain sensitive journalistic material. (IANS)