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Illegal assets vault to private lockers

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NEW DELHI: When income tax authorities began investigations against a businessman associated with a leading car manufacturer, the trail led them to a vault, run by a private agency. On opening it, officers discovered several kilos of stashed bullion, along with diamond and cash. Curiously enough, the vault was allotted to the businessman’s employee, which would not have raised suspicion.

Similarly, a search operation relating to a Jaipur-based financier led them to a private vault where bundles of Rs 500 notes were nearly stacked. Using cash counting machines, the team found that Rs 3.57 crore was stored in the vault, almost a quarter of the “surrendered income” of Rs 15 crore, a senior tax officer said. Photos of money in lockers are not new.

After all, ‘tijoris’ at homes of businessmen have been around for years (often with a combination lock). But instances of cash, bullion and precious stones stashed in private vaults are on the rise as those with undisclosed assets find it easier to deposit it away from their homes or offices. While many of these, run by local businessmen, are in and around wholesale markets, where cash still dominates transactions, there is a rising trend of them being located in residential localities.

In a recent raid by the I-T department, money was found in a vault in South Delhi’s Saket. Officers said some sprung up in upmarket residential localities across the country. Unlike a bank locker, where it is illegal to keep cash, the private vaults offer more privacy and getting details of the those who have rented them is more difficult compared to one in a bank branch. Plus, it’s “easier to do business” in these vaults as records maintained by them are not as comprehensive.

Given that it is not easy to access information, in a few cases, the tax department has become an “active participant” to track down those stashing undeclared wealth.

Recently, the department got one of its inspectors to rent space in a private vault and gave him cash to keep it in the safe. Over the next five-six months, the inspector would visit the vault almost on a daily basis and keep an eye on “regular users”. In addition, he befriended some of the workers at the private vault and got details about the real beneficiaries, said an officer.

Using the information, tax department officers zeroed in on a few people, resulting in a detailed scan on them followed by action against some. “While there is emphasis on data mining, we have not given up on the way we have traditionally done business,” said an officer, adding that investigation teams across states were relying on multiple sources to zero in on suspects.

Updated: November 8, 2017 — 1:59 am

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