New Delhi: The opposition alleged today that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been ensured unwarranted protection by tax officials who have decided not to investigate the Sahara Group over alleged bribes that were paid to politicians, according to "diary entries" found in raids on the company's offices in 2014.
- Sahara offices raided, politicians with bribes listed in papers
- PM Modi among them, should order inquiry: opposition
- Documents not credible, Sahara can't be prosecuted: tax panel
November's decision to not prosecute Sahara, first reported in The Indian Express newspaper, reverses exactly what the same department - the Income Tax Settlement Commission - had decided in August last year.
The "Sahara diaries" refer to papers and computer print-outs which reportedly named politicians from different parties, including Mr Modi while he was Gujarat Chief Minister and Congress leader Sheila Dikshit, along with amounts paid to them as bribes.
The Settlement Commission, which reports to the Finance Ministry, allows corporates and others to disclose or confess to income beyond what has been taxed. The agency then decides the penalty that is due by mediating between tax officials and the corporate.
Last November, it heard Sahara's appeal, and, in its order, agreed with the conglomerate's claim of "dumb documents written by some disgruntled employees." The commission also finds, "under the circumstances we are satisfied that the applicant has put before us all the relevant facts and has cooperated in the proceedings. As such we consider it to be suitable case for grant of immunity from penalty and prosecution under the Income Tax Act 1961. The same is nearby granted."
The tax panel delivered its decision, siding with Sahara, just three days after hearings finished. It also reduced the amount on which tax liability is to be calculated for Sahara from about 1,200 crores to 137 crores, which was found in cash during the raids. After paying taxes and a penalty, the matter will end for the company.
"Immunity for Sahara or immunity for Modiji? If your conscience is clear Modiji why fear investigation?" tweeted Congress leader Rahul Gandhi. "Modiji scuttling all enquiries against him. Proves he took bribes," posted Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, also on Twitter.
Lawyer-activist Prashant Bhushan has asked the Supreme Court to order an investigation against Sahara and the listed politicians. At its last hearing, the court said it needs credible evidence to back the allegations of corruption. The next hearing has been set for the 11th of this month.