MUMBAI: One of the absconders in the Punjab National Bank (PNB) fraud, Mehul Choksi, was under the scanner of the Mumbai Income Tax Department (Investigation) in 2012 for alleged duty violations while importing huge quantities of gold and diamond items.
According to replies received under RTI in 2012, from the Mumbai Customs Department by activist Manoranjan S. Roy, huge quantities of gold were imported by major Indian companies and many had not paid duty that year.
Among the companies named by Mumbai Customs Department were Choksi's group businesses -- Gitanjali Gems Ltd, which imported 750 kg of gold items, Gitanjali Jewellery Ltd imported 171 kg and Gili India Ltd imported 182 kg and 134 pieces (implying gold articles) -- all allegedly without paying a single rupee as duty.
The total gold and diamonds imported by Choksi's companies came to 1,103 kg that year. It was allegedly cleared by the Customs department without paying any duty.
"After the Mumbai Customs' shocking revelations, I checked further to learn that Gitanjali Jewellery Ltd. was not even registered with the Registrar of Companies. There are no records available of this company's existence, yet it succeeded in importing 171 kg of gold undetected," Roy said.
Armed with this expose, Roy complained to then Director General of Income Tax (Investigation) on August 16, 2012, seeking a detailed probe.
He pursued it vigorously. Finally in 2017, he approached then DG of IT (Investigation), B.D. Bishnoi in Mumbai.
"Bishnoi was cooperative but directed me to follow up with the concerned Principal Director, ITI, P.S. Paniay. When I met him, Paniay brushed me off saying I must contact the local headquarters or Finance Ministry. Since then, I made several trips, but the entire issue has been stuck without progress," Roy told IANS.
Choksi is an uncle of diamond and jewellery trader Nirav Modi, who has reportedly fled from India with his wife after being linked to a huge financial scam involving the Punjab National Bank.
There were more stunning revelations in the Mumbai Customs RTI replies.
"Their records show nearly three dozen top Indian diamond and gold jewellery companies who have imported more than 75 tonnes - exact figures are 75,724.54 kg of gold and diamond items in 2012. No duty was paid by any of these companies on this massive quantity," said Roy.
Morever, these companies used and sold this 'duty free' gold in the markets, but it is unclear whether this was declared to the IT Department, failing which the losses to the exchequer could be manifold, Roy said.
Further research made with the Registrar of Companies and the Maharashtra Sales Tax Department revealed that many of the companies which had imported gold and diamonds were not registered with either (RoC or MSTD).
"When I raised the matter with the Mumbai Customs Department, they washed off their hands claiming it was not within their jurisdiction to ensure whether any gold-diamond importer was registered with RoC or MSTD. They contended that their jurisdiction pertained to collection of customs duty," Roy said.
On Roy's prodding why they failed to charge or collect duties on such a huge quantity, "no official had any response".