Leading media owner Raghav Bahl -- whose home and office of news portal "The Quint" were raided by Income Tax officials on Thursday -- has issued a statement providing an account of the raid and the "interrogation" by the officials. One of the biggest names in Indian media, Mr Bahl is the founder of The Quint and the Network18 group and the raids triggered concern and anger on social media. Many had called it an attempt at "intimidation".
In today's statement, Mr Bahl said there was a "blatant attempt" by the "government's spin-masters" to say the action was part of investigation into some Long-Term Capital Gains scam "whereby Raghav Bahl and Ritu Kapur had made "bogus" income of Rs 118 cr".
"We reiterate that we are absolutely in the clear, that we shall mount a robust legal defence against every trumped-up charge... that we are making these disclosures to pre-empt further character assassination... to thwart attempts through leaks, plants, and trolls," he said.
The tax officials, Mr Bahl said, had recovered Rs 3.56 lacs in Indian currency and Rs 33-odd lacs in modern and ancestral jewellery, "almost entirely from my 82-year-old mother's cupboard". All these assets, he said, were assessed and declared in past returns.
Giving details of the assets, he said his flat in London was part of legally permitted Liberalised Remittance Scheme, which currently stands at $250,000 per family member per year, which has been declared in their income tax filings.
The officials, he said, have been given the copy of share sale agreement, and full access to past emails regarding the sale of their shares in Network18 to Reliance Industries Limited in 2014. The officials, he said, were also provided with a copy of the FIPB approval for BloombergQuint (BQ) TV.
There had been similar searches at their investment companies -- The News Minute (Bangalore), Quintype India (Bangalore) and Youth Ki Awaaz (Delhi), Mr Bahl said. Pointing out that his investments in these companies have taken place after 2015, while the search was supposedly linked to transactions of 2014, he called it a "fishing expedition".
Mr Bahl also flagged the use of private digital experts during the search. The data copied by these experts, he said, did not belong to the government but the private contractors. "Where is the privacy of this key data? Who is responsible for its misuse? What indemnity do we have?" he questioned, adding that the issue requires "serious deliberation... and we reserve our right to take further action".
Asked about the raids and whether they were an attempt to suppress the media, Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had said, "We believe in freedom of press and democratic values. If any media house is involved in corruption, they have to answer."
Expressing concern over the raids, the Editors Guild of India, in a statement, said, "While the tax administration is within its rights to make inquiries in compliance with the relevant laws, it should not exercise those powers in a way that could be seen as intimidation of the government's critics."