#header-inner img {margin: 0 auto !important; #header-inner {text-align: Center ;} Fiji Coupfourpointfive: Mahendra Millions: unanswered questions over Haryana letter

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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Mahendra Millions: unanswered questions over Haryana letter

Coupfourpointfive has decided to publish one of the series of articles that Victor Lal had published in the Fiji SUN regarding Mahendra Pal Chaudhry’s secret millions in Australian bank accounts. Here, he had challenged the findings of the Inquiry Team which had cleared Chaudhry. 
Haryana letter riddle 
Chaudhry’s tax file raise disturbing questions
By VICTOR LAL

The 148-page thick tax file belonging to Mahendra Chaudhry raise many disturbing questions following the 14-page findings of the three-member inquiry team that has cleared Mr Chaudhry of any tax anomalies.

In any event, the terms of reference for the “Committee” was to (a) establish whether the tax assessments by the Fiji Islands Revenue and Customs Authority (FIRCA) in respect of Mahendra Pal Chaudhry between 2000 and 2006 were carried out in accordance with the Income Tax Act (Cap 201) and any other relevant laws of Fiji; and (b) establish whether there were any breaches of the Exchange Control Act (Cap 211) by Mr Chaudhry between 2000 and 2006 in relation to the tax assessment carried out by FIRCA.

In view of the narrow limits of the terms of reference and a short time span (7 March to 10 March 2008), the findings are not surprising, for a wide-ranging inquiry would have yielded another result regarding Mr Chaudhry’s tax affairs. 

Since there was no commission of enquiry under the Commission of Inquiry Act (Cap 47), the Committee had not held any public hearings, called any witnesses nor taken any written or oral submissions as to facts or law. 

The Committee was however satisfied that the files provided by FIRCA and the materials provided by the Reserve Bank of Fiji were sufficiently comprehensive and contained sufficient information for it to conduct its enquiries and reach its conclusions.
A copy of the file, however, reveal that Mr Chaudhry failed to declare interest on his investments, understated his income, owed thousands of dollars in tax before he granted a general tax amnesty to taxpayers, and had $2million salted away in his private Australian private bank account which he now, eight years later, belatedly claims was meant for him and his family. 
The mass of evidence confirms my series of tax stories, which I first began in August 2007, with minor contentions. As I explained, I had received his tax documents as far back as 2005, and had sent Mr Chaudhry a series of questions but never received any reply.
Meanwhile, Mr Chaudhry had neither told FIRCA, nor the Indo-Fijian community, or the nation, that he had received $2million from one Harbhjan Lal of Haryana in India, and that over half a million dollars of that money was secretly transferred into his bank account through the Indian Consulate-General in Sydney. 
Contrary to Mr Chaudhry’s assertion, I have never conceded that the $2million was for his resettlement in Australia. 

The unsigned letter dated 9 September 2004 by the mysterious Harbhajan Lal is highly questionable, and invites the question whether it was written ipso facto to persuade FIRCA that the $2million was for his resettlement because in his reply, Harbhajan Lal informs Mr Chaudhry as follows: “You have asked for the details of the funds,” and goes on to provide a detailed breakdown of the funds. 
It is right to ask Mr Chaudhry why, in September 2004, he was asking Harbhajan Lal, whom Mick Beddoes has described as the “Indian Santa Claus”, about the state of the funds in Haryana when from his own Australian bank account, Mr Chaudhry was acutely aware that he had already received $503,000 on 1 November 2000,  $486,890 on 22 February 2001, and $514,148.50 on 15 April 2002 from India. 
And on 23 February 2001, a day after receiving $486,890 Mr Chaudhry, on becoming an overnight millionaire ($503,000+$486,890) or someone acting on his behalf, withdrew $800,000 from his bank account. 

There is also no evidence in his Commonwealth Bank of Australia statements, which he provided to FIRCA, that it was definitely Harbhajan Lal who transferred the first two instalments, for the transaction details simply read – deposit – 2070, whereas the third instalment clearly links the money to Indian “consulate general in Sydney.

It was on 11 May 2004 that the investigating officer from FIRCA informed Mr Chaudhry, “I wish to advise you that information received through surveys taken by the Authority (FIRCA) and also from banks/financial institutions reveal that you are in receipt of income, which has either not been declared or under declared”. 

The FIRCA officer reminded him of the provisions of Section 50(5) of the Income Tax Act Cap 201, demanding that Mr Chaudhry furnish details of interest earned on all private bank accounts operated by him and his family, and among other details, to furnish a copy of the Trust Deed, for Mr Chaudhry had initially claimed that he was holding the $2million in trust for the Indo-Fijian community.

Again, it is surprising that as a former government auditor, former finance minister in the Bavadra government, and Opposition spokesman on finance in Parliament, Mr Chaudhry was unaware that he had to declare interest on investments he earned abroad. 

The inquiry team in its report stated that, “In particular, FIRCA is satisfied that the non-disclosure (of interest) resulted from inadvertence and arose out of a misunderstanding of the application of Fiji laws to interest earned outside Fiji”.

But in his 18 May 2004 letter to the investigating FIRCA officer, Mr Chaudhry, while stating that he held no trust deed, had categorically told the officer: “In so far as interest from moneys held in accounts abroad are concerned, please be advised that these have not been brought to Fiji but remain reinvested in the accounts there.” 

He does not mention that he was unaware of the application of Fiji laws to interest earned outside Fiji. There is also no evidence to suggest that Mr Chaudhry approached a tax lawyer for three years to seek clarification on the status of interest earned abroad. 

There is also no evidence that FIRCA was satisfied with the explanation about the investments, for on the margins of Mr Chaudhry’s signed letter another officer scrawled as follows: “OK!! Evidence – source of funds; when did first invest?? Details of Int[erest] earned from when first invested; copies of bank st[atement] if any and evid[ence] of any tax deducted at source.” 

Moreover, despite the team’s finding, on October 5, 2004, after a 3.30pm meeting with Mr Chaudhry’s tax agents, one FIRCA officer observed on the office memo: “More substantive evidence to support the letter.” Mr Chaudhry never provided any more substantive evidence on Harbhajan Lal, for on 10 November 2004 he paid $86,069.62 for income tax for 2000 (Receipt Number 5093831).

According to Mr Chaudhry’s tax records for the year ending 31 December 2000, he had understated income of $2,815.22. For the year ending 2001, he had understated income of $35,100.52. For the year 2002, it was $65,823.84, and for the year 2003, it was $111,8672.22.

There is also evidence that on 10 July 2007 he still owed FIRCA $57,672.09 in tax. It is legitimate, under the doctrine of public interest, to request Mr Chaudhry to declare when did he clear the balance: before, during, or after the tax amnesty that he granted to taxpayers. 

It is now for Mr Chaudhry to explain to the nation who is Harbhajan Lal? What committee in Haryana was Harbhajan Lal representing which collected the money on his behalf in 2000, and why was the third instalment transferred through the Indian Consulate-General in Sydney? 

Who transferred the first two instalments, namely 2070? Did the Government of India secretly transfer the $2million into his bank account? Will Mr Chaudhry disclose the contents of his letter he allegedly wrote to Harbhajan Lal in 2004 enquiring about the state of the funds? 

What about the other hostages and their families? Weren’t they entitled to a portion of the $2million? Didn’t his parliamentary colleagues suffer at the hands of George Speight and his thugs during the hostage crisis? Did Mr Chaudhry ever tell his parliamentary FLP colleagues and the rank and file members that after his trip to India in 2000 he had finally become a double-digit millionaire, but had $2million in Australia for him and his family’s own personal spending?

If the money was for his resettlement, why didn’t Mr Chaudhry return the $2million to the original donor or donors once he decided to run for Parliament in the 2001 and 2006 general elections in Fiji? Did he inform Harbhajan Lal or for that matter whoever gave him the money, that he (Mr Chaudhry) was keeping the money for him and his family?
What must not be lost in the propaganda war unleashed by the interim regime and Mr Chaudhry in the aftermath of the team’s findings, is that he never told any of us that he had been sitting pretty tight on a phenomenal sum of $2million which he allegedly received from his supporters in India, as the team put it, “in order to assist him and his family to relocate to Australia consequent on the circumstances surrounding his ceasing to be Prime Minister of Fiji in 2000”. 
It was only recently that I finally revealed him as being the $2million man.
He never told us that he had made late lodgements of his 2001, 2002, and 2003 tax returns, which was the subject of my first tax story on him in August 2007. Even the inquiry team has now confirmed my earlier assertions that Mr Chaudhry lodged his tax returns for the 2000 and 2001 financial years together on 30 May 2002, which was outside the 31 March due date for the lodgement of those returns. He lodged his returns for the 2002 year on 12 December 2003, which was also outside the time allowed. 
Mr Chaudhry did not declare interest on the Australian and New Zealand financial institution accounts in his return lodged with FIRCA in respect of any of the 2000 to 2003 (inclusive) years.
We are yet to hear from Mr Chaudhry why he made lodge lodgements, and why he did not disclose interest earned on his investments for the years 2001, 2002, and 2003. It would not be out of context to suggest to Mr Chaudhry that one of the primary reasons was because if he did, than he might have been forced to reveal that he had secretly received three instalments of funds running into thousands of dollars in 2000, 2001, and 2002?   
As a way of background, I emerged in 1987, along with many others, as one of Mr Chaudhry and the Fiji Labour Party’s most vocal of supporters abroad, and in the process, became a victim of sustained abuse and criticism from the taukei nationalists. 
When Mr Chaudhry was overthrown in the 2000 coup, and none other than Commodore Frank Bainimarama, as head of the military, had refused to accede to our unequivocal demands for Mr Chaudhry’s re-instatement as Prime Minister, we re-activated the London-based Movement for Democracy in Fiji. 
There was also a concerted attack on me by the military-installed Laisenia Qarase led interim government, which accused me of pushing the agenda of the Fiji Labour Party.
On 24 August 2000, Ratu Inoke Kubuabola accused me as follows: “Victor Lal’s articles all have a simple, indeed simplistic stance, restore Chaudhry and impose democracy as defined by Lal and his friends. What he is advocating is an Indian supremacist doctrine, a new version of Hitlerian herrenvolk for Fiji. The racism lies in his desires, not those of us Fijians. His obsession to control Fiji, blinds him to his own ambitions.”
We intensified our fight for Mr Chaudhry’s political rights when Commodore Frank Bainimarama claimed in his February 2001 affidavit before the Fiji Court of Appeal that he had abrogated the 1997 Constitution because he was satisfied that people engaged in the events of May 19 were of the perception that the document had watered down the interests of indigenous Fijians. 
“Whether or not those perceptions accorded with reality was not my principal consideration. The perceptions were genuinely held by largely unsophisticated Fijians not equipped to adequately comprehend the niceties and technicalities of the Constitution.”
The London-based Movement for Democracy had also hosted Mr Chaudhry after the hostage crisis. It is, therefore, in the context of my long fight for Mr Chaudhry’s political rights that I would invite my critics, especially Mr Chaudhry, to understand my shock, horror and disappointment when I discovered that the “the political saint, former prime minister, and leader of a major political party” had secretly received $2million in his Australian bank account, while we had been laboriously soldiering on for his rights, and that of the Indo-Fijian community.

I, therefore, totally reject Mr Chaudhry’s allegations against me, where he claimed as follows: “I have always maintained that the initial Victor Lal articles (published in the Fiji Sun) were motivated by spite, malice and outsized ego. 

The articles were the product of a conspiracy hatched between Lal and certain media people here, including the departed publisher of the Fiji Sun, to not only defame me and have me removed from office but also to divide and weaken the interim Government”.

A close reading of the team’s background facts relating to Mr Chaudhry’s tax details reveal that they based their facts from the same tax file from which I wrote the story about his $2million, except with different conclusions.
However, Mr Chaudhry must tell us about the source of Haryana funds. 

Who is the mysterious Harbhajan Lal? What committee he belonged to in Haryana? Is he the one who transferred the first two instalments, which saw Mr Chaudhry become an overnight millionaire? Was the money for him or the Indo-Fijian community? And why no other colleagues of his who were held hostage with him were entitled to a share of the $2million? Why only him and his family?

There are still many unanswered questions on the Haryana front. And only Mr Chaudhry has the answers.

Read the dubious letter from Harbjahan Lal in Haryana

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

There is no need to reiterate the non-controversial: Chaudhry is a crook, always was one and always will be. He mad a bad call as Frank's Finance Minister, but even crooks make bad calls.

Anonymous said...

Keep on the look out for another major crook from the south indian community????

Anonymous said...

In all fairness, another crook who happens to be from the opposite camp is under investigations? lets see fiji's criminal justice systems fairness???