Dainik Bhaskar Raid: IT searches Dainik Bhaskar, opposition calls it attack on press freedom | India News
The Bhaskar Group called the action a retaliation against its aggressive coverage of the pandemic. However, government sources refuted the accusation and said the raids were part of an investigation into the alleged round trip of the Bhaskar Group, which has interests in other sectors besides the media. TI officials also searched a UP media group, Bharat Samachar, and his backers in a different tax evasion case.
The three Agarwal brothers, Sudhir, Pawan and Girish, are promoters of the Bhaskar group and the controlling media conglomerate DB Corp Ltd, which has various investments in energy, textiles and real estate with a turnover of around 6 billion rupees. Flagship DB Corp controls at least 100 companies where the IT department has alleged large-scale tax evasion and investment turnover through the Mauricio route.
Several shell companies controlled by the group allegedly have company employees as shareholders and directors. Government sources claimed that DB Group has been featured in the 2016 Panama Document Disclosure Case, which is being investigated by a multi-agency group (MAGAZINE) consisting of the IT department, the Directorate of Execution, the Financial Intelligence Unit and the RBI. A statement released by the Bhaskar Group said TI’s raids were carried out at its facilities in MP, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Maharashtra for his aggressive journalism.
Laptops and mobile phones were seized from its editorial and digital staff despite the fact that these people had nothing to do with the company’s financial transactions and were illegally detained. News updates suffered for several hours, he said. The opposition also linked TI’s action to the media group’s reports on the alleged underestimation of the Covid deaths and the matter was raised on Thursday in Rajya Sabha by former MP CM Digvijaya Singh. Subsequently, various politicians and opposition parties condemned the action against Dainik Bhaskar.
Responding to a question on whether TI’s action was an attack on journalism, Information and Broadcasting Minister Anurag Thakur said the agencies were working without any government interference, adding that it would be insane to reach conclusions based on incomplete information.
The Panama newspaper leaks named more than 400 Indian entities, but investigations by various agencies later found that only 146 cases were “actionable” in which the government has so far discovered undisclosed revenues of more than Rs 20 billion. While the Central Board of Direct Taxes, the top cadre that controls the TI authority, has made no official statements about the searches by the two groups, government sources alleged that people from the Bhaskar Group were involved in an alleged investment swap. Round trip is a concept generally used in money laundering contexts where shell or ghost companies registered in tax havens receive deposits of undisclosed income and send them back to the beneficiary in the host country as legitimate foreign direct investments.
Sources said that the Bhaskar Group has been on the radar of tax authorities since 2016 and is being investigated along with other entities under the Black Money Law. “Many had their accounts in Singapore while their entities were registered in the British Virgin Islands,” according to the IT department. The department has already filed several charge sheets in court and served notices to many under the Black Money Act. The residences of Dainik Bhaskar’s promoters and the bungalow of its chief financial officer are among those registered, the sources said.
Members of the night shift editorial team at the Bhopal headquarters office, which moves in at 6 a.m., were asked to stay inside until 1 p.m., sources said. The same thing happened in other editorial offices as well. The searches lasted well into the night and could extend into the night. There were 20-25 staff members in the DB office in the Press Complex in Bhopal around 7:30 p.m. In Jaipur, IT teams came to the daily JLN Marg office. CM Ashok Gehlot condemned TI’s action against the newspaper, calling it an attempt to muzzle the press. He tweeted that the government’s inability to tolerate any criticism indicates BJP“fascist mentality”.