Has the December 31, 2012 raid on the premises of Tamil Nadu trader TM Ramalingam landed in cold storage following an ‘understanding’ between the Government and the alleged true owner of this mindboggling wealth of International Bills of Exchange worth $5 billion? Readers may recall that the small town agricultural commodities trader briefly grabbed the headlines for holding $5 billion worth international bills of exchange, before quietly fading away.
On January 10, 2013, a senior Income Tax Department official informed the media that the $5 billion worth international bills of exchange appeared to be bogus, and that this had been orally confirmed by the Barclays Bank which supposedly issued the instruments on February 25, 2011; these were due to mature in February 2015.
Ramalingam was to appear before the Income Tax Department on Friday, January 11, but the meeting was abruptly cancelled and no reasons given for the same.
The story of the jaw-dropping wealth of the Tirupur district trader has taken so many twists and turns in the recent fortnight that they raise legitimate doubts about the conduct of the case. Soon after the raid, it was said Ramalingam was a nondescript agricultural commodity trader with a modest annual income of just Rs 3 lakh per annum, which kept him out of the tax net. His office-cum-residence is an 86-cent plot on the Dharapuram-Palani road, of which 27 cents is rented to a petrol bunk. The combined income from trade and rentals is Rs 3 lakh.
He ostensibly came to the notice of tax authorities when he suddenly purchased a sports utility vehicle for Rs 17 lakh without a loan. It was further alleged that Ramalingam had submitted a proposal to the Centre for a petroleum product refinery worth thousands of crores of rupees at Thondi, Ramanathapuram district, for which he set up a company, Baranidhar Refinery Private Limited. Informed sources say the story of the refinery is a red herring.
During the raids, the authorities found US Treasury Bonds worth $5 billion (Rs 28,000 crore), which later changed to $5 billion worth International Bills of Exchange (five in number). Ramalingam claimed he purchased the bills with gold bonds from a person based in Brazil, and was raising funds for his petroleum refinery. Possessing such huge bills of exchange without disclosure to income tax authorities is illegal.
After initially asking the Reserve Bank of India and State Bank of India to investigate the bonds, it was announced on January 11 that the documents were being flown to the United States for physical verification. The cognoscenti sniggered it was the beginning of a cover-up.
Sure enough, barely 24 hours later – it takes a minimum 17 hours to fly to America, and the officials carrying the documents would first check into a hotel and recover from jetlag before arriving at the bank, which would take time to study the documents and give a written report about its findings – Ramalingam’s bills of exchange were pronounced a hoax! The Government now says it will investigate his frequent visits to Myanmar.
Informed sources say this development ties in with foreign media reports that Italy’s anti-mafia prosecutors seized $6 trillion worth of ‘fake’ US bonds in February 2012. The bonds were found hidden in makeshift compartments of three safety deposit boxes in Zurich; eight people were arrested in this connection. The financial fraud uncovered included two cheques issued through a bank in London for £205,000 ($325,000), not backed by available funds. The probe also yielded fake bonds for $2 billion in Rome. The individuals involved were planning to buy plutonium from Nigerian sources, according to phone conversations monitored by the police, a Bloomberg report said. All this suggests a massive international money-laundering scheme with as yet unknown objectives.
The raid at Ramalingam’s premises also yielded fixed deposits worth Rs 1.83 crore in the names of Ramalingam and his son with the State Bank of India and Karur Vysya Bank. An income tax official said Ramalingam had received Rs 2.5 crore from a Singapore company by promising it a loan from a financial institution. He used the funds to buy a new car, repair his house and deposited the balance.
The Ramalingam case seems destined to go the way of the investigations into Hasan Ali Khan, the Pune stud farm owner who shot to fame in 2007 with an account with UBS, Zurich, with $8 billion in deposits. The account has since reputedly been emptied; what else? Un-embarrassed, the Union Finance Ministry quietly informed Parliament’s Standing Committee on Finance last month that it was simply ‘not possible’ to recover tax arrears of about Rs 91,000 crore from Hasan Ali Khan.
Despite growing public pressure on the issue of corruption, the UPA Government continues to sit on a list of 26 people with accounts in a Liechtenstein bank, handed over by German authorities. The UPA stand is that the names cannot be revealed as they were received on condition of ‘confidentiality’. Experts estimate that around $500 billion of Indian money is stashed away in illegal havens abroad.
Nor is the unaccounted money circulating within the country less impressive. Prior to the Uttar Pradesh Assembly election in February-March 2012, income tax authorities raided Centrestage Mall, Sector 18, Noida, and reportedly seized Rs 100 crore from a basement vault allegedly belonging to liquor baron late Ponty Chadha (Gurdeep Singh Chadha). Five cash counting machines were also recovered with the cash. A major national daily put the recovery at over Rs 125 crore in cash, while a leading regional daily reported Rs 200 crore seized, plus an additional Rs 38 crore seized from his son-in-law. But two weeks later, the stash diminished to Rs 11 crore in cash, jewellery and fixed deposits! How can Rs 100 crore (if not more) become Rs 11 crore, when estimates of cash seized are made on the basis of volume of the bundles? A 90 per cent margin of error merits an explanation.
TUESDAY, JULY 5, 2011
Rajdeep Sardesai : “No Wild Allegations Against Gandhis, Please…..”
In the post ‘Why is Indian media scared of Sonia Gandhi’ I referred to an incident in a public debate on the Lokpal bill conducted by Rahul Kanwal of Headlines Today:
“Nothing about the program struck me as being new or specific except when a man wearing a green T-shirt, who introduced himself as ‘IIT Kharagpur and MBA’, started shooting questions. It was all fine until he started raising some questions about Swiss banks or KGB money apparently in relation to Sonia Gandhi. Hmmmm! That’s where Kanwal abruptly cut him off. This got me wondering all over again”.
Something similar happened on CNN-IBN last night in a discussion on the Supreme Court order setting up an SIT. Vishwabandhu Gupta, a former IT commissioner, talking about black money and Swiss accounts started referring to ‘the visit of a 41 year old politician and his mother to Switzerland…..” (before the new agreement with the Swiss authorities on black money was recently finalised) when Rajdeep Sardesai immediately cut off him. Rajdeep firmly suggested that “wild allegations should not be made”! Oh yeah! Talking about the queen or her son and their visits to Switzerland is almost blasphemy. And the media bimbos don’t like “wild allegations”. More of this later.
First, Manish Tiwari, the Congress spokesperson was unusually subdued in the discussion on CNN-IBN. As usual he started by stating that he had not read the full SC order. Then he mentioned that it wasn’t really an SIT but an expansion of the High Level Committee. Wow! The SC should be clearer for the likes of Manish Tiwari. Then when it came to the SIT ordered by the SC he brought up something connected with Ramjanma Bhoomi movement having collected 400 crores and transferred it abroad. This, Tiwari suggested, was according to reports in the past by V. Gupta himself. There is no denying that the BJP may be involved in as much black money transactions as the Congress or DMK which is what Tiwari was implying. Rajdeep maintained a studied silence on the commentary by Tiwari even though that was clearly a digression.
So what exactly are the ‘wild allegations’ that Gupta wasn’t allowed to air by Rajdeep Sardesai? Well, Gupta was probably attempting to make a connection between the visit of Sonia and Rahul Gandhi to Switzerland and subsequent Indo-Swiss agreement that black money investigations will now relate to only prospective offences. In other words past records of black money hoarders will not be accessible to the Indian government. Isn’t that convenient? One can’t be sure but that is what Vishwabandhu Gupta was probably alluding to. And why is that scary for Rajdeep Sardesai? Why is that a wild allegation or a new allegation? There are enough number of sites that have already made these allegations. Even Subramanian Swamy is on record stating the Gandhis were in Switzerland to handle black money issues, although that can be a sarcastic and snide remark. So why exactly were the Gandhis in Switzerland?
In case Rajdeep Sardesai is unaware there are many other sites that have made another startling connection in the coincidence between the Gandhis’ visit to Switzerland and another event. Yes, that’s the Bilderberg group meeting between June 9 and 12 at St. Moritz in Switzerland. The Bilderberg group is one of the most secretive group of elites who seem to set the world agenda on economy, politics and various other issues. Participating members in the past have been Bill Clinton, Tony Blair and many other prominent personalities. It has also been suggested that Richard Nixon opened up to China under pressure from the Bilderberg group. It’s not hard to find material about this group on the net and even videos on youtube. Well, all that may still be speculation. Still, would CNN-IBN or any other channel or newspaper mind telling Indians why the Gandhis were in Switzerland? No details need be furnished they could simply say it was a personal family holiday. But you won’t find even that in any media outlet. Such is the secretive and intriguing conduct of the Gandhis and their defence by media shops like CNN-IBN. Naturally, this leads to more speculation and rumours.
For the record the Supreme Court order setting up the SIT on black money makes stunning reading. It’s an order born out of extreme unhappiness and discomfort with the government’s inaction and unwillingness to act. The very first para of the SC order starts with a quote of Deep Throat’s famous advice to Bob Woodward : “Follow the money” (From Watergate’s ‘All the President’s men’) The SC didn’t mention that Deep Throat later on admonishes Woodward for sloppy work and almost letting Haldeman get away. Well, in the end Deep Throat does reveal to Woodward that the entire operation of spying, Watergate and scandals was masterminded by Haldeman. Bob Haldeman, incidentally, was the Chief of Staff at the White House under Nixon. The corruption of the systems started right from the White House in that event.The highest seat of power in the US.
Well, Rajdeep Sardesai, there is no reason to believe that all the scandals and scams that are now emerging in India do not have their source at the epicentre of the UPA power. There is every reason to believe, as does the Supreme Court, that all the Queen’s poodles are working vigorously to stall and drag the black money investigations.The Hassan Ali-Tapuriah stories seem a bit far-fetched and at best these guys maybe a front.
One has to wonder over and over again why the media is so scared about talking about allegations hurled at Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and even Sonia’s family members. They need not look in many directions to bring out these allegations – one man, Subramanian Swamy, has a whole dossier. The media channels have invited Swamy for debates on many issues but not once to discuss his allegations against the Gandhis.
The Supreme Court suggests “follow the money”! Who the hell will follow the mediacrooks who seem to protect the queen?