Ahmedabad: A businessman from Gujarat has disappeared after disclosing unaccounted earnings of Rs 13,860 crore under the Centre’s Income Declaration Scheme (IDS).
Mahesh Shah, 67 , lived in a 4-BHK apartment in an old building in Ahmedabad, and was known to take an autorickshaw to work. The billionaire also owed money to neighbours.
Shah’s cash disclosures account for more than 20% of the total Rs 65,000 crore declared under IDS in India. However, in his income tax returns for the past 2-3 years, Shah had shown his annual income as Rs 2 lakh to Rs 3 lakh.
Income tax department sleuths carried out searches at Shah’s residence and his chartered account Tehmul Sethna’s office and residence from November 29 to December 1. “The last time I talked to Shah was on November 29 in the presence of I-T officials. Ever since, he is inaccessible,” Sethna, a partner in the 90-year-old CA firm Appaji Amin & Co, said on Friday.
Shah, a big-ticket land dealer with business interests in Gujarat, Mumbai and Pune, had declared his income on September 30 -the last date for disclosures under IDS. The first instalment of Rs 1,560 crore, 25% of the 45% tax imposed on his declared income, was to be paid on November 30. However, Shah’s declaration form was cancelled by the I-T department on November 28.
Sethna claimed that Shah’s declaration was cancelled after I-T officials, following a search, felt he would not be able to pay the amount. “I-T department suspects the possibility of money laundering through income disclosed by Shah,” he said. The I-T department, however, said there was no co-relation between Shah’s IDS declaration and the search operations.
“It was sheer coincidence that premises of Shah and his business associates were among 67 places searched following market intelligence about illegal currency exchange in Ahmedabad after demonetisation. We had no inkling of Shah’s disclosure under IDS, which is being handled by the assessment branch and is confidential. We have seized Rs 40 lakh in cash and jewellery worth Rs 30 lakh from Shah’s business associates,” said a senior I-T officer.
Shah and Sethna came into contact in 2013 when the former approached the CA for tax advice in a land deal. “The land deal never materialised but Shah kept in touch. Shah was not a regular client and I have never filed Shah’s income-tax returns,” Sethna said. He conceded that he never doubted Shah’s credentials though the latter possessed huge amounts of cash.
He said Shah had contacts with highly influential people, including politicians, and put up only at five-star hotels in Mumbai.
Shah’s son Monitesh, 32, said, “He (Shah) is in Mumbai but I have no idea about his whereabouts.”