Pandora Papers probe: Most foreign jurisdictions respond to FIU queries

The Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU), a key unit of the multi-agency probe into the 2021 global offshore investigation called the Pandora Papers, has received responses from its counterparts in over three-fourths of the requests it sent to 33 foreign jurisdictions.

Officials said that using the network of FIUs in mostly the offshore havens mentioned in The Indian Express investigation (October 4-16, 2021), the FIU sent out 160 requests to foreign jurisdictions and has received responses in 125 cases so far.

The wide scope of the Pandora Papers probe of the FIU is evidenced from the fact that a total number of 482 “subjects” or individuals and legal entities (including offshore companies) have been covered in these bilateral requests for information.

It is learnt that “sizeable” and “additional” information have been received by India from other FIUs regarding the 482 subjects mentioned in the Pandora Papers.

The fresh information includes details of existing and additional foreign bank accounts; investments in shares by offshore entities; confirmation of the Beneficial Owners (BOs) and Settlors of Offshore Trusts, and investments in shares and immovable properties made by the individuals named in the Pandora Papers.

The individuals include both Indian residents as well as Non Resident Indians (NRIs).

The FIU has been dispatching the details in individual cases to the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) to accelerate their Pandora Papers probes.

As reported earlier (The Indian Express, December 24, 2021), cooperation between FIUs in the Pandora Papers probe is being done under the aegis of the Egmond Group, an umbrella organisation that brings FIUs of 167 countries together with the aim of facilitating a secure exchange of “financial intelligence to combat money laundering and terrorist financing.”

The Indian Express was among 150 media outlets which covered the Pandora Papers, data for which was obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).

The offshore data in the Pandora Papers contained details about 29,000 offshore companies, registered by 14 companies located in different tax havens.

The CBDT, in the meantime, has replied to an RTI request filed by The Indian Express and stated that the stage for reporting “tangible progress” in the Pandora Papers bunch of cases is still to be reached.

The RTI reply, dated August 25, states: “The Government of India has taken cognizance of the same (the Pandora Papers) and investigation in these cases is under progress… investigation in such cases takes considerable time as it requires obtaining requisite information from concerned foreign jurisdictions.”

The CBDT said “…a tangible outcome in these cases can only be reported post completion of assessment and appellate proceedings which gets initiated upon completion of investigation in such cases.”

The CBDT is the lead agency in the Multi Agency Group (MAG) which was set up by the Government to probe the Pandora Papers on October 4, 2021, the day the global media expose was published. Besides the CBDT and the FIU, officials from the ED and the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) are members of the MAG and are present at every meeting to review progress of the probe.

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