Panama papers probe going on ‘very seriously’, government tells SC

New Delhi: The Union government on Thursday told the Supreme Court that it has set-up a Multi-Agency Group (MAG) to investigate people whose names surfaced in Panama Papers leaks as having overseas accounts and was taking the entire matter “very seriously”.

Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta told the bench of Justice Dipak Misra and Justice Amitava Roy that the MAG has already submitted five reports to the court-appointed SIT probing the black money stashed abroad.

The MAG consists of officers of Central Board of Direct Taxes, including its Member, Investigation, the Reserve Bank of India, the Enforcement Directorate and the Financial Intelligence Unit.

The court was told that the SIT headed by former apex court judge Justice M.B.Shah in turn has submitted a report to the court in a sealed cover. Besides Justice Shah, another former top court judge, Justice Arijit Pasayat is its Vice-Chairman.

The SIT set up under the July 4, 2011 apex court order, has been mandated to undertake the investigations into the unaccounted money stashed away outside the country to tax havens and foreign bank and take steps to bring it back.

Meanwhile, the market regulator, the Securities and Exchange Board of India, said that Participatory Notes (P-notes) were “completely valid”.

Telling the court that PIL was not maintainable, senior counsel Arvind Datar, appearing for Sebi, told the bench that it had nothing to do with the information emerging from the Panama papers leaks.

He said that the market regulator has no role in Panama papers, adding that it “has been unnecessarily dragged into the issue as it has noting to do with it”.

Asking PIL petitioner M.L.Sharma to file an affidavit pointing out in what way the Sebi was concerned with Panama Papers, the court told him to back his affidavit with documents. Sharma has been given four weeks time.

“File an affidavit with documents (as to) how Sebi is concerned with the matter,” the court ordered.

The bench took exception when Sharma took the name of a senior lawyer and an actor that figures in the list of Indians mentioned in the Panama Papers, and told him to desist from taking names.

As Mehta asked Sharma to apologise for naming the lawyer, he refused saying that “it is not wrong, their names are there”.

The top court had on May 9 issued notice to the Central Bureau of Investigation on Sharma’s PIL seeking probe against the people named in the Panama Papers.

Sharma had also sought an investigation against the Sebi head, his associates and others for what he said was the market regulator’s failure to act on the curbing of circulation of black money allegedly through P-notes.