Tax raids on Uflex, Himachal Futuristic called off

By Arvind Padmanabhan


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New Delhi : Tax authorities Friday called off the raids on the premises of Uflex and Himachal Futuristic Communication as soon as Mulayam Singh Yadav conceded defeat in the Uttar Pradesh assembly election and decided to step down as the state's chief minister.

The raids Thursday had raised eyebrows in the capital's political and corporate circles as the top brass of the two companies were known to be close friends of Samajwadi Party leader Amar Singh whose equation with the Congress party, which heads the ruling coalition government at the centre, is at an all-time low.

Ashok Chaturvedi, who founded the flexible packaging major UFlex (formerly Flex Industries) in 1983, and Vinay Maloo, who promoted the telecom equipment firm Himachal Futuristic with cousin Mahendra Nahata in mid-1980s, are part of an influential coterie of friends of Amar Singh.

"Around noon today, the raids were called off," said Amit Ray, president and chief executive of Uflex. "But all through the procedure, our factories were working, the dispatches continued and our meetings happened as scheduled."

Asked if he suspected a political vendetta in the raids, Ray told IANS: "I would not like to go into that. People are certainly intelligent. They have their eyes and ears open. We are not bad people. Nothing has come out of these raids."

According to intelligence sources, the search operations were primarily aimed at sending a strong signal to the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) that the Congress party is with her in unearthing alleged misdeeds during Yadav's rein in Uttar Pradesh.

"We were also trying to ascertain if money was being laundered out of India. If so, the channels that may have been used in this regard," a senior intelligence official told IANS on the condition of anonymity.

Amar Singh had alluded to political motives behind the raids Thursday. "We are not afraid of the Congress's coercive measures," he said. "If they want to raid me or Mulayam Singh, they are more than welcome."

According to tax officials, Chaturvedi was once arrested in November 2001 on charges of paying bribes to then chief commissioner of central excise for the Delhi Zone, Someshwar Mishra.

But a lower court exonerated Chaturvedi for lack of evidence and the Delhi High Court upheld the verdict.

In the case of Maloo, too, an investigation was carried out in 2001 for his possible connivance with bull trader Ketan Parikh to jack up the shares of Himachal Futuristic, which again did not yield much result.

Uflex is the $350 million flagship of the Flex group listed on the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE). Other companies of Chaturvedi's empire include Flex Chemicals, Flex Engineering and Flex Foods.

The group has an impressive array of clients including the Godrej group, Heinz, Henkel, ITC, Nestle, Pepsi, Perfetti, Smithkline-Beecham, Tata Chemicals, Tata Tea and Unilever.

The group, headquartered at Noida in Uttar Pradesh just outside the national capital, provides packaging solutions not just in India, but also in the US, Canada, Britain, Russia, Central Asian countries, South Africa, the Middle East and South East Asia.

Himachal Futuristic, on the other hand, made its fortunes when Sukh Ram was the communications minister in then prime minister P.V. Narasimha Rao's government. It was a major supplier of equipment to state-run enterprises and the government.

Maloo was the financial brain behind the company, which at one point saw its share price zoom beyond the Rs.1,000 mark, compared to around Rs.18 at which it trades currently.

He even teamed up with Australian investor Kerry Packer to enter the convergence business in India.