Income Tax officials \'survey\' BBC offices in India

The searches come weeks after the BBC released a documentary on Prime Minister Narendra Modi - \'India: The Modi Question\'

Update: 2023-02-14 07:48 GMT
A police officer is seen at the gate of a building housing BBC office in New Delhi. (AP Photo/Altaf Qadri)

New Delhi/ Mumbai: The income-tax department on Tuesday conducted survey operations at the BBC’s offices in New Delhi and Mumbai as part of a probe into alleged tax evasion by the overseas broadcaster. The action comes weeks after the broadcaster aired a controversial two-part documentary India: The Modi Question.

The survey action triggered a sharp political debate within the country, with the ruling BJP accusing the BBC of “venomous reporting” and the Congress and the Opposition parties attacking the move.

The survey was conducted to investigate issues related to international taxation and transfer pricing of BBC subsidiary companies, officials said. Earlier the BBC had been served notices but it was “defiant and non-compliant” and had significantly diverted its profits, they alleged.

The department is scrutinising documents related to the business operations of the British broadcaster and its Indian arm, they said. The survey is being carried out to investigate issues related to international taxation and transfer pricing of BBC subsidiary companies, the officials added.

The London-headquartered BBC, on its part, said it is fully cooperating with the tax authorities.

“The income-tax authorities are currently at the offices in New Delhi and Mumbai and we are fully cooperating. We hope to have this situation resolved as soon as possible,” the press office of the BBC said on Twitter.

The synchronised surprise action began at around 11 am with the income-tax officials reaching the BBC offices in New Delhi and in Mumbai. BBC staffers were asked to keep their phones at a particular spot inside the premises and cooperate, officials said.

According to I-T rules, transfer pricing “generally refers to prices of transactions between associated enterprises which may take place under conditions differing from those taking place between independent enterprises. It refers to the value attached to transfers of goods, services and technology between related entities.”

It also refers to the value attached to transfers between unrelated parties which are controlled by a common entity.

As the news spread, curious onlookers and media persons were seen outside the BBC office at central New Delhi’s Kasturba Gandhi Marg. In Mumbai, the office is in the upscale neighbourhood of Santa Cruz.

As part of a survey, the income-tax department only covers the business premises of a company and does not raid the residences and other locations of its promoters or directors.

The Supreme Court had last week dismissed a plea seeking to impose a complete ban on the BBC in India in the wake of the controversial documentary, terming the petition “entirely misconceived” and “absolutely meritless”.

On January 21, the government issued directions to block multiple YouTube videos and Twitter posts sharing links to the documentary.

Reacting to the I-T department’s action, the Editors Guild of India said it was “deeply concerned” about the income-tax surveys and termed it the continuation of a trend of using government agencies to intimidate and harass media outlets critical of the ruling establishment.

In a statement, the guild said great care and sensitivity must be shown in all such investigations so as to not undermine the rights of journalists and media organisations.

The BJP, in its reaction, accused the BBC of unleashing “venomous” reporting against India, and alleged that its propaganda and the Congress’ agenda go together. BJP national spokesperson Gaurav Bhatia rejected the Congress’ criticism of the I-T action and said the government agency should be allowed to do its job.

He termed the BBC as a “most corrupt” organisation in the world and said the Congress should remember that former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had also banned the broadcaster.

AICC general secretary Jairam Ramesh used a Hindi idiom to attack the government, saying “Vinash Kale, Vipreet Buddhi” (When doom approaches, a person's intellect works against his interest).

“Here we are demanding JPC on the Adani issue but the government is after the BBC. Vinash Kale Viprit Buddhi," Ramesh said.

“Since agencies doing these Valentine’s Day ‘surveys’, how about @IncomeTaxIndia, @SEBI_India & @dir_ed conduct one on govt's most valued sweetheart Mr A?" was Trinamul Congress MP Mahua Moitra’s response to the I-T move.

The CPI(M) hit out at the Centre over IT “raids” and questioned if India remains the “mother of democracy”.

“First ban BBC documentaries. No JPC/enquiry into Adani exposures. Now I-T raids on BBC offices! India: ‘Mother of democracy’?” party general secretary Sitaram Yechury said in a tweet.

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