Among the names of Indians and Indian corporates that featured in the latest leak of Panama Papers leak is also Zee Group’s chief and the BJP’s Rajya Sabha MP, Subhash Cahndra.
Indian Express reported that through a complex web of transactions, offshore companies of the Essel Group, promoted by Subhash Chandra, raised funds to repay debt and finance Veria Lifestyles, a venture he owns outside the Zee umbrella, by pledging promoter shares of Zee Entertainment Enterprises Limited (ZEEL), Appleby records show.
Appleby records show that a $62-million loan was taken from Credit Suisse “to finance existing offshore promoter debt” in 2013. This loan was given to SMTP Ltd (Mauritius) which, in turn, provided a convertible loan to Essel Holdings Limited (Mauritius), a company “indirectly wholly owned and controlled by” Chandra.
This was also “indirectly backed by 46 million fully paid up equity shares” of Zee held by Essel Holdings Limited (EHL), making prepayment necessary “upon fall in stock price of Zee by more than 40% since inception”.
But the BSE records of disclosures made by ZEEL regarding pledging of promoter shares since February 2012 do not include this pledging of 46 million shares in 2013.
Responding to the paper’s query, Chandra’s office said, “We would like to mention that Dr Chandra is not an executive director nor holds any post in ZEE except for being a non executive Chairman. We would confirm that the companies (Delgrada and EHL) are Essel Group companies. We also confirm that all activities in these companies satisfy/comply with all regulatory aspects in their respective jurisdictions including India.”
Chandra was elected to the Rajya Sabha with the BJP’s support. His channel Zee News has always been supporting the Centre’s Narendra Modi government while voicing active support for the right-wing Hindutva ideology.
In an interesting revelation, while Appleby showcased its services that facilitated loans for companies owned by Subhash Chandra to their prospective Chinese and Brazilian clients, it raised a red flag as well.
An Appleby internal memo in March 2014 said: “Please note the subject (Chandra) has provided a false declaration by answering no to question #6 of the Compliance form: ‘Have you ever been the subject of a judicial or other official enquiry’,” the compliance department pointed out, attaching two pdfs of news reports titled “Jindal extortion case: “Chargesheet filed against Subhash Chandra and two Zee editors” and “Zee vs Jindal: Court rejects Chandra’s plea for modification of order”.
On false declaration, Chandra’s office told Indian Express, “We are not privy to any records of Appleby and in fact no one is supposed to be privy to these as any such documents are supposed to be kept highly confidential between a law firm and their clients. You clearly seem to be going overboard if you or anyone has possession of such documents as that’s clearly in breach of confidentiality which will have its own consequences on Appleby and yourself/your firm.”