New Delhi/Mumbai, (The Hindu): In fresh trouble for NCP leader and former PWD Minister Chhagan Bhujbal, the Income Tax department has attached benami assets worth ?300 crore belonging to him and his family. The department, which has charged them under a newly enacted criminal law, said the assets were allegedly created using a maze of nearly four dozen shell companies.
The I—T department has issued notices for provisional attachment of assets belonging to Mr. Bhujbal, his son Pankaj and nephew Sameer, and has identified them as beneficiaries of the alleged benami assets. The attachment notice, accessed by PTI, has been issued under section 24(3) of the Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Act, 2016 (under this, it is presumed that the person in possession of the benami property may alienate the property).
Immovable assets attached under the order include Girna sugar mills in Nashik, valued at over ?80.97 crore and a multi-storeyed residential building named Solitaire in Santacruz West valued at over ?11.30 crore. While the mills are in the name of Armstrong Infrastructure Pvt Ltd, the building is shown as being owned by Parvesh Construction Pvt Ltd.
Also attached were Habib Manor and Fatima Manor buildings in Bandra (West), valued at over ?43.61 crore (benamidar: Parvesh Construction Pvt Ltd) and a plot of land in Panvel, valued at over ?87.54 crore (benamidar: Devisha Infrastructure Pvt Ltd). While the attached benami assets have been evaluated at over ?223 crore, the department said their market value is more than ?300 crore.
The I-T department has identified 44 shell companies which ‘invested’ in two of the three firms identified as benami in the order. Violators of the law, enacted in 1988 but implemented only on November 1 last year, attract rigorous imprisonment of up to seven years and fine up to 25% of the fair market value of the property.
The order, issued after over four months of investigations by a special team, said the probe “clearly shows that the properties were acquired out of unexplained funds of the Bhujbal family, which was routed under the guise of shares at high premium in the group of companies of the Bhujbals, through a web of shell companies based out of Kolkata, Mumbai and other locations.”
To establish the benami assets charges, the order has also relied upon statements of ‘dummy operators’ and Chartered Accountants of the Bhujbal Group recorded by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA).
Mr. Bhujbal, the MLA from Yeola Assembly constituency in Nashik, and Sameer are lodged in Arthur Road jail after they were arrested by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) last year in a money laundering case. The I-T department will now move to confiscate these assets after approval by the adjudicating authority under the Act, which allows for prosecution of the beneficiary owner, the benamidar, the abettor and the inducer to benami transactions. It also says assets held benami after final prosecution are liable for confiscation by the government without payment of compensation.
Last month, the I-T department had charged six members of RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav’s family, including his wife, son and daughters, under the benami assets law in connection with its probe into land deals worth ?1,000 crore.
As per official data, till May 23, the department had identified 400 benami transactions in the country and provisional attachment of assets was done in about 240 cases.
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