CA Kamal Garg

The term ‘compounding’ has not been defined either in the Foreign Exchange Management Act, 1999 or the rules issued there under. However, inference can be drawn from the definition given in the Companies Act, 1956. It defines ‘compounding’ as: ‘Any offence punishable under the Act (whether committed by the company or any officer thereof), not being an offence punishable with imprisonment only or with imprisonment and also with fine may, either before or after the institution of any prosecution, be compounded’. Various terms related to compounding have been defined under The Foreign Exchange (Compounding Proceedings) Rules, 2000.

The compounding of the contravention under FEMA was implemented by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) by putting in place the simplified procedures for compounding with effect from 1.2.2005 with the following views enshrining the motto of enhancing transperancy and effect smooth implementation of the compounding process:

1. minimization of transaction costs; and

2. taking a serious view of the willful, mala fide and fraudulent transactions.

It should be noted that FEMA is not a revenue law. The compounding proceedings have the intention of deterring people from making repetitive lapses.

A. Relevant Provisions from FEMA, 1999:

Power to Compound Contravention (Section 15):

If any person contravenes any provision of the Foreign Exchange Management Act, 1999, or contravenes any rule, regulation, notification, direction or order issued in exercise of the powers under this Act, or contravenes any condition subject to which an authorization is issued by the Reserve Bank, he shall, upon adjudication, be liable to a penalty. However, under section 15 of the Foreign Exchange Management Act, 1999 power to compound contraventions has been granted to the Director of Enforcement or such other officers of the Directorate of Enforcement and officers of the Reserve Bank as may be authorised in this behalf by the Central Government.

Any contravention may, on an application made by the person committing such contravention, be compounded within 180 days from the date of receipt of application. Where a contravention has been compounded no proceeding or further proceeding, as the case may be, shall be initiated or continued, as the case may be, against the person committing such contravention under that section, in respect of the contravention so compounded.

Penalties (Section 13):

(1) If any person contravenes any provision of this Act, or contravenes any rule, regulation, notification, direction or order issued in exercise of the powers under this Act, or contravenes any condition subject to which an authorisation is issued by the Reserve Bank, he shall, upon adjudication, be liable to a penalty up to thrice the sum involved in such contravention where such amount is quantifiable, or up to two lakh rupees where the amount is not quantifiable, and where such contravention is a continuing one, further penalty which may extend to five thousand rupees for every day after the first day during which the contravention continues.

(2) Any Adjudicating Authority adjudging any contravention under sub-section (1), may, if he thinks fit in addition to any penalty which he may impose for such contravention direct that any currency, security or any other money or property in respect of which the contravention has taken place shall be confiscated to the Central Government and further direct that the foreign exchange holdings, if any of the persons committing the contraventions or any part thereof, shall be brought back into India or shall be retained outside India in accordance with the directions made in this behalf.

Explanation.—For the purposes of this sub-section, “property” in respect of which contravention has taken place, shall include—

     (a)   deposits in a bank, where the said property is converted into such deposits;

     (b)   Indian currency, where the said property is converted into that currency; and

     (c)   any other property which has resulted out of the conversion of that property.

Enforcement of the orders of adjudicating authority (Section 14):

(1) Subject to the provisions of sub-section (2) of section 19 (dealing with Appeal to Appellate Tribunal), if any person fails to make full payment of the penalty imposed on him under section 13 within a period of ninety days from the date on which the notice for payment of such penalty is served on him, he shall be liable to civil imprisonment under this section.

(2) No order for the arrest and detention in civil prison of a defaulter shall be made unless the Adjudicating Authority has issued and served a notice upon the defaulter calling upon him to appear before him on the date specified in the notice and to show cause why he should not be committed to the civil prison, and unless the Adjudicating Authority, for reasons in writing, is satisfied

     (a)   that the defaulter, with the object or effect of obstructing the recovery of penalty, has after the issue of notice by the Adjudicating Authority, dishonestly transferred, concealed, or removed any part of his property, or

     (b)   that the defaulter has, or has had since the issuing of notice by the Adjudicating Authority, the means to pay the arrears or some substantial part thereof and refuses or neglects or has refused or neglected to pay the same.

(3) Notwithstanding anything contained in sub-section (1), a warrant for the arrest of the defaulter may be issued by the Adjudicating Authority if the Adjudicating Authority is satisfied, by affidavit or otherwise, that with the object or effect of delaying the execution of the certificate the defaulter is likely to abscond or leave the local limits of the jurisdiction of the Adjudicating Authority.

(4) Where appearance is not made pursuant to a notice issued and served under sub-section (1), the Adjudicating Authority may issue a warrant for the arrest of the defaulter.

(5) A warrant of arrest issued by the Adjudicating Authority under sub-section (3) or sub-section (4) may also be executed by any other Adjudicating Authority within whose jurisdiction the defaulter may for the time being be found.

(6) Every person arrested in pursuance of a warrant of arrest under this section shall be brought before the Adjudicating Authority issuing the warrant as soon as practicable and in any event within twenty-four hours of his arrest (exclusive of the time required for the journey):

Provided that, if the defaulter pays the amount entered in the warrant of arrest as due and the costs of the arrest to the officer arresting him such officer shall at once release him.

Explanation.—For the purpose of this section, where the defaulter is a Hindu undivided family, the karta thereof shall be deemed to be the defaulter.

(7) When a defaulter appears before the Adjudicating Authority pursuant to a notice to show cause or is brought before the Adjudicating Authority under this section, the Adjudicating Authority shall give the defaulter an opportunity showing cause why he should not be committed to the civil prison.

(8) Pending the conclusion of the inquiry, the Adjudicating Authority may, in his discretion, order the defaulter to be detained in the custody of such officer as the Adjudicating Authority may think fit or release him on his furnishing the security to the satisfaction of the Adjudicating Authority for his appearance as and when required.

(9) Upon the conclusion of the inquiry, the Adjudicating Authority may make an order for the detention of the defaulter in the civil prison and shall in that event cause him to be arrested if he is not already under arrest:

Provided that in order to give a defaulter an opportunity of satisfying the arrears, the Adjudicating Authority may, before making the order of detention, leave the defaulter in the custody of the officer arresting him or of any other officer for a specified period not exceeding fifteen days, or release him on his furnishing security to the satisfaction of the Adjudicating Authority for his appearance at the expiration of the specified period if the arrears are not satisfied.

(10) When the Adjudicating Authority does not make an order of detention under sub-section (9), he shall, if the defaulter is under arrest, direct his release.

(11) Every person detained in the civil prison in execution of the certificate may be so detained,—

            (a)        where the certificate is for a demand of an amount exceeding rupees one crore — up to three             years, and

            (b)        in any other case — up to six months:

Provided that he shall be released from such detention on the amount mentioned in the warrant for his detention being paid to the officer-in-charge of the civil prison.

(12) A defaulter released from detention under this section shall not, merely by reason of his release, be discharged from his liability for the arrears but he shall not be liable to be arrested under the certificate in execution of which he was detained in the civil prison.

(13) A detention order may be executed at any place in India in the manner provided for the execution of warrant of arrest under the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (2 of 1974).

B. Indicative Points RBI considers while compounding:

The RBI considers the following indicative points while examining the nature of contravention under FEMA and Rules and Regulations made thereunder:

  1. whether the contravention is technical and/ or minor in nature and need only an administrative cautionary advice;
  2. whether the contravention is serious and warrants compounding of the contravention; and
  3. whether the contravention, prima facie, involves money laundering, national and security concerns involving serious infringements of the regulatory framework.

If, before disposal of the compounding application by issue of a compounding order the RBI finds that there is sufficient cause for further investigation, it may recommend the matter to Directorate of Enforcement (DoE) for further investigation and necessary action under FEMA, by them or to the Anti-Money Laundering Authority instituted under PMLA, 2002 or to any other agencies, as deemed fit. Since the compounding application will have to be disposed of within 180 days, the application will be disposed of by returning the application to the applicant in view of investigation required to be conducted. The FEMA lapses may be either the procedural lapses or innocent lapses or serious lapses or violations. Under the Compounding Rules, the contraventions are compounded considering the following factors:

  1. the amount of gain or unfair advantage, wherever quantifiable, made as a result of the contraventions;
  2. the amount of loss caused to any authority or agency or exchequer as a result of the contravention;
  3. economic benefits accruing to the contravener from delayed compliance or compliance avoided;
  4. the repetitive nature of the contravention, the track record and/ or the history of non-compliance of the contravener;
  5. contravener’s conduct in undertaking the transaction and in disclosure of full facts in the application and submissions made during the personal hearing; and
  6. any other factor as considered relevant and appropriate.

It should be reiterated here that the contraventions which are wilful, intentional or having mala fide and fraudulent intention shall not be considered for compounding in terms of the Compounding Rules issued by the RBI.

C. RBI Advisory to Authorised Dealers (RBI Circular 76, 17/01/2013):

1. In terms of section 11(2) of FEMA, 1999, the Reserve Bank may, for the purpose of ensuring the compliance with the provisions of the Act or of any rule, regulation, notification, direction or order made thereunder, direct any authorized person to furnish such information, in such manner, as it deems fit. Accordingly, RBI has entrusted to the Authorised Dealers (ADs) the responsibility of complying with the prescribed rules/regulations for the foreign exchange transactions and reporting the same as per the directions issued from time to time.

2. During the compounding process, on a number of occasions, it has been brought to our notice by the applicants that the contraventions of the provisions of FEMA by corporates and individuals are due to the acts of omission and commission of the Authorised Dealers and some of the applicants have also produced documentary evidence in support of their claim. Such contraventions being dealt with by the Reserve Bank mainly relate to:

 i.  Draw down of External Commercial Borrowing (ECB) without obtaining Loan Registration Number (LRN) [Regulations 3 and 6 of FEMA 3/2000];

 ii.  Allowing draw down of ECB under the automatic route from unrecognised lender, to ineligible borrower, for non-permitted end uses, etc. [Regulations 3 and 6 of FEMA 3/2000];

iii.  Non-filing of form ODI for obtaining UIN before making the second remittance to overseas WOS/JV for Overseas Direct Investment (ODI) [Regulation 6(2)(vi) of FEMA 120/2004];

iv. Non-submission of Annual Performance Reports (APRs)/copies of Share Certificates to the AD (and non-reporting thereof by the AD to Reserve Bank) in respect of overseas investments [Regulation 15 of FEMA 120/2004];

 v.  Delay in submission of the Advance Reporting Format in respect of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) to the concerned Regional Office of the Reserve Bank [paragraph 9(1)(A) of Schedule I to FEMA 20/2000];

 vi. Delay in filing of details after issue of eligible instruments under FDI within 30 days in form FC-GPR to the concerned Regional Office of the Reserve Bank [paragraph 9(1)(B) of Schedule I to FEMA 20/2000];

vii. Delay in filing of details pertaining to transfer of shares for FDI transactions in form FC-TRS by resident individual/companies [Regulation 10(A)(b) of FEMA 20/2000]; etc.

3. From the data on compounding cases received by Reserve Bank, it is observed that more than 70% of the total cases pertain to FDI within which about 72% relate to delay in advance reporting/submission of FCGPR. In the case of ECB, 24% of the cases received relate to drawdown without obtaining LRN. Similarly, 66% of the ODI cases relate to non-reporting of overseas investments online. Authorised Dealers have an important role to play in avoidance of such contraventions and accordingly, the dealing officials in the banks need to be sensitised and trained to discharge this function efficiently.

4. All the transactions involving Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), External Commercial Borrowing (ECB) and Outward Foreign Direct Investment (ODI) are important components of our Balance of Payments statistics which are being compiled and published on a quarterly basis. Any delay in reporting affects the integrity of data and consequently the quality of policy decisions relating to capital flows into and out of the country. Authorised Dealers are, therefore, advised to take necessary steps to ensure that checks and balances are incorporated in systems relating to dealing with and reporting of foreign exchange transactions so that contraventions of provisions of FEMA, 1999 attributable to the Authorised Dealers do not occur.

5. In this connection, it is reiterated that in terms of section 11(3) of FEMA, 1999, the Reserve Bank may impose on the authorized person a penalty for contravening any direction given by the Reserve Bank under this Act or failing to file any return as directed by the Reserve Bank.

Compiled by FCA Kamal Garg. He is a Fellow Member of ICAI. He is engaged in providing Auditing, IFRS, FEMA, XBRL and Valuation Services. For any queries or suggestions, he can be approached at [email protected]

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October 2021