Raghav Bahl claims his companies are clean, but how ‘clean’ are they really?

News surfaced this morning that the residential premises of The Quint’s founder, Raghav Bahl, and the office premises of digital media portal The Quint have been raided by Income Tax sleuths.

Before the facts even came to the fore, Raghav Bahl had already released a statement to the Editor’s Guild of India. Interestingly, almost simultaneously, Shekhar Gupta who heads the Editor’s Guild also tweeted, as usual, calling it an act to stifle free speech.

Shekhar Gupta asserted that these Income Tax raids are to ‘intimidate’. He said the government should explain themselves otherwise it would look like they are targeting critical media.

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Raghav Bahl in this statement released to the Editor’s Guild said that they are a ‘fully tax compliant’ company and they will provide all financial documents. In a threatening tone, Bahl also asserted that if other documents that might have sensitive information pertaining to their journalism is touched, they will take “strong recourse”.

However, while Bahl has asserted that he was and has been fully ‘tax compliant’, and he may as well be, one recalls Bahl’s name cropping up in the Paradise papers.

It is reported that the US conglomerate Viacom entered into a 50-50 joint venture with Raghav Bahl’s Network 18 to set up Viacom 18 which, in turn, launched various subsidiary companies that were incorporated by Appleby in different tax havens. This joint venture and the subsequent subsidiaries which were launched allegedly in tax havens happened in the year 2007. It is worthy to note that when this transaction allegedly took place, Raghav Bahl was the managing director of the Network 18 before it changed ownership to Reliance in 2014.

What was widely covered in the media, Appleby data showed various links between Network 18 and 4 offshore entities. Three of these entities were listed in the balance sheet.

The report says:

“Bahl, as Director of the Network18, handled the affairs of the two other offshore companies and submitted applications for de-registration. The first application was for Network 18 Holdings Ltd which, on 19 April 2012 passed a special resolution. On 30 April, 2012, another application was filed for the company in the Cayman Islands, where it was registered in 2006, to be de-registered “by way of continuation” in Mauritius. The second company for which the de-registration process was undertaken by Bahl was Web 18 Holdings Ltd. This company, also registered in 2006, made a request to Appleby on 18 September 2012, for being taken off the registry of Cayman Islands and shifted “by way of continuation” to Cyprus.”

Raghav Bahl’s name also came up in the INX media scam briefly.

As per a report on the Statesman, “As per the income tax report, two media firms – INX Media and Network 18 — had in 2008 allegedly bribed Karti for getting FIPB approvals. At that time, INX Media was co-owned by Peter Mukherjee, and Network 18 that runs TV channels like CNN-IBN and news portals was controlled by Raghav Bahl, who now runs the Quint website”.

The CBI had filed an FIR in the INX scam case in May 2017 alleging that Karti had received a bribe of Rs 3.5 crores from the Peter and Indrani Mukherjee owned INX Media Pvt Ltd. INX Media was later named as 9X.

Today, the Enforcement Directorate has reportedly attached properties and bank deposits of Karti Chidambaram worth around Rs.54 crores in connection with the INX Media case.

The specific reasons for the ongoing raids against Raghav Bahl are still unclear, however, there have been sufficient speculations around his financial dealings in the past.

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