After Zee, two more prominent Indian media houses have found mentions in the latest Paradise Papers leak. They are Mukesh Ambani-owned Network 18 and Hindustan Times, owned by Shobhana Bhartia.
As for Network18, which saw change of ownership in 2014, the group entered into a 50-50 joint venture with the US media conglomerate in 2007. Raghav Bahl, who now runs news website The Quint, was Network18’s Managing Director then. He later sold his shares through a debt vehicle to Reliance Industries which, through various firms, has a 75% holding in the company.
Appleby data reveal that Network 18 Group was linked to four offshore entities in the past with three of three of them being listed in balance sheets by the company as subsidiaries.
Appleby records, according to the Indian Express, identify one subsidiary as Roptonal Ltd, registered in Cyprus and described in the annual report as a wholly owned subsidiary of Viacom 18. Another is shown as The Indian Film Company, also a wholly owned subsidiary of Viacom 18, registered in Guernsey.
Bahl, as Director, handled the affairs of the two other offshore companies and submitted applications with Appleby for their de-registration, reveals the Paradise Papers leak data. The first application is 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 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.
Responding to the revelation, Bahl said, “The overseas companies mentioned by you were set up/ migrated in due compliance with applicable laws for undertaking international media operations of the Network18 Group. Due disclosures regarding set-up etc. of these companies were made by the Network18 Group in the financial statements of the relevant years. Also, do note that post the transfer of ownership of Network18 Group (July 2014), I am not associated with these companies in any manner.”
Paradise Papers leak also reveals that Hindustan Times Group owned by the Bhartias set up a company in Bermuda, Go4i.com (Bermuda) Ltd, through HTBC Ltd, which is one of the three shareholders of the offshore entity. HTBC Ltd has its registered office in Mumbai and is owned by HT Interactive Media Properties, which has its registered office at Hindustan Times House, Kasturba Gandhi Marg, New Delhi.
Appleby documents show that Shobhana Bhartia, chairperson of the Hindustan Times Group, and her son Priyavrat Bhartia are directors of the Bermuda entity and also of HTBC Ltd.
However, Registrar of Companies (RoC) documents between 2004 and 2016 make no mention of the Bermuda entity — there is no further update in subsequent years on the status and business of the offshore company.
The other officials at Go4i.com (Bermuda) Ltd include Manisha Gupta, Piyush Gupta, Anil Ahuja, Rajan Kohli, Hiren Patel and Ravi Seth among others.
This is what Shobhana Bhartia office reacted to the new revelation, “Go4i.com (Bermuda) was formed after taking all requisite approvals as a JV between Swaminn, Indocean Internet Holdings (co-Investors) and HTBC Ltd (a 100% step down subsidiary of The Hindustan Times Limited) to undertake internet and other allied business. The business was subsequently wound up in 2004 after taking all necessary approvals.”