India has begun its search for the trail for money stashed away in secret bank accounts in tax havens, in a bid to get to the source of funds of investors in the firms that were granted telecom licences and scarce 2G spectrum at allegedly throwaway prices. The government is finalising tax information exchange agreements (TIEAs) with 15 countries, eight of them in West Asia — a move that will enable securing specific information about sources of income of individuals and firms located there. Negotiations are at an advanced stage with the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, Syria, China, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Malaysia, Mongolia, South Korea and Vietnam.

“Once the agreements are signed, we can seek specific information about persons or entities that may have invested in telecom companies in India that secured licences in 2008,” a top government official said.

The income tax (I-T) department and the enforcement directorate (ED) are already probing possible violations of tax and foreign exchange laws by firms that were awarded licences in the 2G spectrum scam.

At present, India has double taxation avoidance agreements (DTAAs) with as many as 79 countries but not all have provisions for exchange of information related to taxation.

The government has written to these countries to amend the existing DTAAs to incorporate Article 26 of the OECD’s Model Tax Convention. This will allow for exchange of information between two countries on “tax of every kind and description.”

“There are specific suspected instances of round tripping from some of these countries to some firms that were granted licence. The amended treaties will help give more information,” the official said.

Round tripping refers to routing of investments by a resident of one country through another country back to his own country to evade taxes.

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September 2021