Global media probe names first offshore Indian user

By Arun Kumar, IANS,

Washington: A group of international journalists which claims to have exposed hidden dealings of politicians, con artists and the mega-rich in more than 170 countries has so far revealed only one name from India.

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Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) cited the name of Indian businessman Ravikant Ruia as an example of “tens of thousands of people” from around the world linked to offshore companies and trusts. Officials of ICIJ, however, Thursday acknowledged in a conference call that many users of offshore are engaged in legitimate transactions and could not say what percentage of the revealed transactions were illegal.

But the “project team’s investigations raise questions about the lack of transparency, lax law enforcement and illegal practices that are prevalent in the offshore world,” they said.

Launched in 1997 by the Centre for Public Integrity, a Washington DC-based non-profit, ICIJ said it worked with 86 investigative journalists from 46 countries, including India to produce the report “Secrecy For Sale: Inside The Global Offshore Money Maze.”

In a story on “Who Uses the Offshore World” ICIJ said in December 2011, Ruia “was accused of criminal conspiracy by India’s principal anti-corruption enforcement agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation.

“The accusation relates to a broader investigation of politicians, government officials and telecom executives in India for alleged irregularities in the award of cell phone frequencies to telephone companies.”

“Ruia’s firm is disputing the charges made against him and others,” it said.

Regarding Ruia’s offshore business, ICIJ said he is a “shareholder in one firm in the British Virgin Islands, Orion Worldwide Universal Corporation (2008). His daughter, Smiti, is a shareholder in two others.”

“One of Ruia’s flagship companies, Essar Power, has further BVI (British Virgin Islands) entities that are named in the ICIJ documents.”

ICIJ cited a company spokesman as saying that of the eight companies registered in Ruia’s name as well as in the name of his flagship business Essar Power, five have since been liquidated. Three continue to be operational.

“These companies were started as SPVs [Special Purpose Vehicles] to make investments and are in the knowledge of the authorities concerned,” the spokesman was quoted as saying.

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at [email protected])