Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Why high-flying India lawyer Harish Salve (exposed by #PanamaPapers #panamaleaks) must be properly investigated

Harish Salve often described as the most successful lawyer in India has been exposed in the papers leaked from the Panama law firm Mossack Fonseca. The Indian Express story on Salve's off shore BVI companies and activities is reproduced below. 

How the Indian government investigates the extremely well-connected Harish Salve will be a test case for the rule of law and the justice system in India. 

The attempt to cover-up has already started. Over at Legally India, a former Clifford Chance lawyer Kian Ganz who these days claims to be a journalist covering Indian legal news has already launched a one-sided, misleading and factually incorrect narrative that seeks to exonerate Salve even before he can be investigated. See http://www.legallyindia.com/bar-bench-litigation/harish-salve-panama-papers-coverage-unfair-privacy-invasion-disclosed-all-investments-paid-rs-175-cr-of-tax and http://www.livemint.com/Politics/JLoR5n29iz99xPgmpqB6sJ/Panama-Papers-coverage-unfair-privacy-invasion-Harish-Sal.html

It is strange the way Kian Ganz is defending Harish Salve, who sure has a lot to explain. Who was the friend Salve set up an off-shore company with? What mining interests was Salve about to invest in? Salve was a practicing CA himself before he became a lawyer. Is it his defense that he was led into illegality by his advisers? Even the facts of Salve's case are not out which will need investigating. It is strange how Kian Ganz jumps in at this premature stage to convey that everything was above board.

As of now everything Salve has said in his defence is just his unverified version. This has not been investigated. We do not know what assets his off-shore companies held, what the money trail is, whether assets were moved, whether he received illegal payments or bribes regarding his high-profile cases, whether he facilitated payments of bribes, whether there was money-laundering etc. 

As of now Salve stands exposed as having been involved in questionable activity. Only an investigation can bring out the facts. 
Otherwise we might as well just accept every criminal's version and let him off.

Why would a lawyer like Harish Salve set up an off-shore company with a "friend"? Who is this unidentified friend? 

Salve also recommended some Canadian citizens Mahajans to Mossack Fonseca. Mossack Fonseca records include a recommendation letter from Salve to Rawi & Co in 2007, asking them to set up a company and a trust for Ramesh Mahajan and Asha Mahajan. 

This is not a lawyer referring a client to a law-firm (as Kian Ganz attempts to spin it). This is prima facie high risk activity? Does it sound like the kind of activity a lawyer of Salve's position would ordinarily engage in? There appears to be dirt waiting to be uncovered. Salve needs to be investigated. 

We have no idea who these Mahajans are. They could be terrorists, or fixers, or money launderers. Only an investigation will reveal the facts. Who are these Canadian Mahajans? What is their connection to Salve? Are these persons Ramesh and Asha Mahajan connected to Selan Exploration Technology? See http://www.moneycontrol.com/bse/shareholding/shp_promoters.php?sc_dispid=SET and http://www.selanoil.com/

Salve has responded with his version. Merely because the Indian Express has not responded further, does not imply that what Salve said has been established as Kian Ganz improperly and misleadingly suggests. The Indian Express is not the investigating agency here. They obviously have only limited facts which they have disclosed and these facts prima facie raise the issue of questionable activity by Harish Salve. It is not for the Indian Express to rebut Salve. We don't even know what papers the Indian Express has. We only know what they have disclosed.

Kian Ganz of Legally India is not the investigating agency and cannot give Salve the "clean chit" (to use Indian lingo) as he attempts. Ganz has clearly misrepresented facts and exposed his dishonest journalism in this "defence" of Harish Salve. 

This issue also does not raise privacy concerns as Salve suggests and which Ganz flogs in his article. Salve was the Solicitor General of India. He has appeared before the Supreme Court of India in the biggest legal cases involving corporations and politicians. The public interest was at stake in these matters. Salve has also often appeared as amicus curie before the Supreme Court. Evidence pointing to potential illegal off-shore activities of Harish Salve including the possibility that these off-shore entities/ accounts could have played a role in influencing justice and the Courts needs to be fully investigated. Harish Salve cannot hide behind the cloak of privacy. 

"MF records show that Salve is listed as a director in Crestbright Ltd, which was registered in 2012 with Salendra Swarup as another director." Who is this Salendra Swarup? Is it the lawyer Shailendra Swarup? 

Harish Salve's statements cannot just be accepted at face value and this issue cannot be closed as Kian Ganz wants us to. We do not know what Salve disclosed or not in his tax papers. Again an investigation is required.

Kian Ganz runs his website based upon advertisements and funds that he raises from Indian law firms. His business Legally India is financially and otherwise dependent upon law-firms and lawyers close to Salve. Kian Ganz has an existing relationship with Harish Salve which he has failed to disclose. This is journalism at its worst. It is really a public relations exercise masquerading as journalism. 

From http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-news-india/panama-papers-india-part-1-list-garware-shishir-k-bajoria-harish-salve/

Harish Salve

Offshore entities: Crestbright Ltd, Pyebush Group Ltd, Edenval Ltd

One of the most sought-after lawyers in the country, Harish Salve has represented celebrity clients in the Supreme Court. He was Solicitor General of India between 1999 and 2002.

MF records show that Salve and his family members registered three offshore companies in the BVI — Crestbright Ltd, Pyebush Group Ltd and Edenval Ltd — through the London-based agent Rawi & Co with Vasant Vihar in New Delhi as the India address. MF records include a recommendation letter from Salve to Rawi & Co in 2007, asking them to set up a company and a trust for Ramesh Mahajan and Asha Mahajan.
MF records show that Salve is listed as a director in Crestbright Ltd, which was registered in 2012 with Salendra Swarup as another director. The other two entities were registered in 2008 with Salve’s wife Meenakshi Harish Salve and daughter Sakshi Harish Salve as directors. MF records show that Edenval Ltd is listed as a shareholder in the incorporation documents of Pyebush Group Ltd.
Response: Salve said: “I set up Crestbright in 2012 — as a holding company to hold my lawfully made and fully disclosed investments based in the UK but the company has zero assets and zero income.
“I have been remitting funds since maybe 2003 under LRS. Out of these, some were invested in a portfolio in the UK and a patent in the US (a 25% stake with three other friends). Wanted to park these in a BVI company as at that time I was not a UK tax resident and wanted to avoid becoming one. Since 2014, I am a dual tax resident — UK and India, and so have not moved any assets into Crestbright.
“Edenoval was set up with a friend, and Pyebush was set up by me to hold shares in Edenoval. My friend had suggested some investments outside India and outside UK. Nothing materialsed; no income — no assets. All the three companies are virtually defunct.
“All my offshore assets upto 2014 were created out of funds remitted from my Indian bank to my UK bank account. After 2014, I have income in the UK too — and made some investments out of that. Since bank accounts are routinely called for by tax authorities, all Indian and UK bank details are filed. Nothing is withheld.
- See more at: http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-news-india/panama-papers-india-part-1-list-garware-shishir-k-bajoria-harish-salve/#sthash.b7eZmmWf.dpuf

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