• Champion of Change
  • 11 years ago

A rendezvous with tax officials that became rather 'taxing'

Reported on September 04, 2013 from New Delhi, Delhi  ι Report #2

I am fighting bribes in the service tax department and IPaidABribe helped me reach my issue to a larger audience and to the Central vigilance authorities

A rather dodgy handwritten letter sent by the service tax department to this unsuspecting car rental company based out of Delhi did not foretell the trouble it would spell. Officials looking to milk the company have trapped them in a convoluted web of lies, even though it was CBI that helped the latter to blow the lid off the corrupt activities run by the service tax officials. In the ongoing judicial proceedings, the company apprehends that the tables could turn any moment.

In an exclusive interview with I Paid a Bribe, Himmat Singh Brar, the director Iris Cabs Private Limited shares his ordeal involving corrupt tax officials and the ‘unreliable’ legal system of our country. 

Give a detailed account of what ensued between you and the corrupt service tax officials in their office and the courtroom.

In response to the letters / notices received by us, the initial few visits to the Service Tax Department were by our accountant. On the first 2 visits they told her to send me to the office. However when she kept visiting, on the 3rd and 4th visit she was shouted at and humiliated saying that such a junior person and that too a lady is sent to visit the Service Tax office. On my first visit, to the office of the Service tax officials, the conversation was of general nature where the Superintendent kept talking about his work, office and how they were under a lot of pressure from the ministry to recover all dues. On our case he only gave warnings on what such a mistake could lead to with various notices and penalties imposed. In order to negotiate the bribe amount they took me outside the office complex. The officials asked me if the company accountant had conveyed the amount to me, I said yes but 1.5 lakhs is way too much and after some negotiations, the amount was settled at Rs.1 lakhs to be paid after a few days on the 4th of Jan while the tax amount should be paid by 15th of Jan to the department or to him and he would deposit it with the department. 

On the second visit, the service tax officials again made general conversation and showed me files and examples of some other companies that had arrived at a settlement. They also told me about how the system was bad and when the Inspector had a brush with income tax officials, even though he went through a reference he had to pay a bribe to get his case cleared.  Thereafter, in order to receive the bribe money, they took me to their car and the Superintendent asked me to make the payment to the Inspector. Upon doing this, as decided I gave a missed call to the CBI official as an indication that the bribe amount had been paid. 

 Can you furnish more details about your company?

 We are a car rental company. Iris Cabs Private Limited based out of Delhi.

When did you receive the letter from the service tax department?

This is the interesting part. The 1st letter was received sometime in September. This was a hand written letter. Once we presented our records to them and they found the discrepancy they sent an official letter asking for some documents for audit in November and then a final letter in Mid-December. When CBI conducted the raid it was discovered that the hand written letter was not a part of its records and had been sent to conduct an unofficial scrutiny of records. I am assuming that the Service Tax officials had sent a number of such letters of the record and in cases where they found some irregularity, they sent out letters officially.

Did the hand written letter not give rise to doubts about the credibility of the officials?

It did, but then the other thought that came to mind is that may be the printer was out of order so the notice was hand written. Especially since all other details were in place and they had asked for the records in the correct office.

Have you tried to use their threats and attempts to bribe the witnesses as evidence to strengthen your case?

 I had mentioned it in the court. While all my other statements were recorded by the court, for such a complaint I was asked to file a written complaint which I avoided. However for our accountant when the pressure got too much, she went with a written complaint and the Judge asked her to get 4 copies of the same and a copy of her ID Proof. She did not visit the court again.

Describe CBIs role in the case, have you continued to receive their support even after the court hearings began?

 CBI role in the case has not been very encouraging. To cite a few examples:-

1) When I visited their office, I was impressed by the building, security and the fleet of well-maintained cars. However when the trap was set up, the trap team was provided with 2 rickety old cars. One was a Maruti Van while the other was an Ambassador. The Van could still run but if the Accused had tried to get away in the Scorpio that they were in along with me, there was no way the 2 cars could have managed a chase. The ambassador barely had a top speed of 25 kmph.

2) This was the 4th complaint we had visited the CBI office with. The 1st three complaints were not entertained since as per CBI there was not enough evidence for the case to stand in court. 

3) The SI dealing with our case during the trap process was extremely good at his work.

4) Every time the accused approached us, we informed the IO but there was nothing he could do. One of the independent witnesses had also been approached by the accused and he reported the same to CBI and me, but to no avail.

5) On the day of my statements at the court the CBI submitted the hand written letter as additional evidence. As a result the proceedings have been postponed by a few months and yet to start. In the meanwhile, the accused have gained precious time to try and influence the witnesses.

6) For every bit of evidence or document to be signed / verified, the witnesses had to visit the CBI office. It’s as if the CBI will fight the case with whatever evidence comes to its office, but not make any effort to go and collect the same.

7) When raids were conducted at the residences of the accused, it was difficult for the CBI officials to collect such a team since it was post office hours.

8) I learnt that about 50 litres of scotch was found at the residence of one of the accused, however the CBI team avoided framing another case under the excise act.

If the CBI already possesses evidence in which the corrupt officials were caught red handed, how is the corrupt party successfully inhibiting you from getting justice?

I guess it is the Indian justice System. It tries to look for every loop hole to let the accused go scot free. For instance earlier CBI used to provide the bribe money for such trap cases. Then the courts started letting the accused go, saying since the CBI has provided the bribe money, there is possibly an ulterior motive for the CBI to fix the accused. Hence in this case it was made clear to us by CBI that the bribe money would have to be arranged and provided for by us. In any other country such a case would have been decided in 10 days max. However in India the charge sheet took 90 days and the witnesses other than me are yet to be examined even once. A snail would have been faster.

The prison term prescribed for such offences is up to 7 years, but in realty the accused are rarely awarded more than 2 years.

In the mean while the accused are filing multiple RTIs with the income tax and service tax departments to fix/threaten me in order to convince me to either not appear in court OR to appear and say that my memory has now faded and I am not too sure on what actually happened. Similarly the accountant is being threatened and offered money to do the same. She has so far been offered 4 lakhs and also been told to let the accused know if she wants more. I have also been asked to name my price. Considering the way the case is progressing, it would be very difficult for anyone to not accept a handsome amount of money to not go to court. The accused have also assured that they will organised the medical certificate.

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