New Delhi, January 29, 2017

If you thought India’s zeal to uncover the information on wealth stashed by Indians in Panama has dwindled in recent months, then think again.

The Indian government is now strongly pursuing a tax information exchange agreement (TIEA) with Panama, official sources said.

A top External Affairs Ministry official had recently visited Panama and conveyed India’s desire to finalise the TIEA at the earliest, they added.

This is despite the doubts being expressed in certain quarters on whether the government would ever bring to book or even act on the already available information on the offshore entities controlled by high-profile Indians.

According to the Panama Papers’ expose in April 2016, which had set a global furore, at least 500 Indians are reportedly said to have held offshore accounts/equity interest in offshore entities in tax havens.

Some of the high profile Indian names that were leaked through the expose included Amitabh Bachhan, Aishwarya Rai Bachhan and the Mistry Family of the Shapoorji Pallonji Group, The concept of a TIEA is a result of the work undertaken by Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development to address harmful practices.
Objective of the pact

The objective of agreement is to promote international cooperation in tax matters through exchange of information. The nature of information varies from agreement to agreement. In May 2016, after the Panama Papers’ expose, Panama had said that it was ready to share information with India on tax evaders named in the Panama Papers, but this was possible only after the two countries signed a TIEA.

In the absence of a TIEA, Panama had said that information could only be provided if sought under judicial process/court order. In November 2016, Panama signed the Multilateral Convention on Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters (MAC), which is now seen as “gold standard” for co-operation in tax administration.

However, under the MAC, Panama is not taking up information exchange obligations automatically, but on request. The commitment to automatic exchange remains only with those countries with which Panama decides to do so bilaterally, Panama Government had said in July 2016.

The MAC is the most comprehensive multilateral instrument available for all forms of tax co-operation to tackle tax evasion and avoidance, and guarantees extensive safeguards for the protection of taxpayers’ rights. Already 98 other countries, including India, and jurisdictions have joined the Convention.

Closely behind British Virgin Islands, the Central American country of Panama has been the second most popular domicile for the anonymous shell companies controlled by the rich and famous, including national leaders and celebrities.

[The Hindu Business Line]