Rs 1,823.08 cr I-T notice: Modi govt indulging in ‘tax terrorism’ to torture opposition party ahead of polls, says Cong

News Network
March 29, 2024

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New Delhi: The Congress on Friday said it has received fresh notices from the income-tax department, asking it to pay Rs 1,823.08 crore, and accused the ruling BJP of indulging in 'tax terrorism' to financially cripple the opposition party ahead of the Lok Sabha polls.

Adressing a press conference at the AICC headquarters here along with Congress general secretary Jairam Ramesh, party treasurer Ajay Maken alleged that the BJP is in serious violation of income-tax laws and said the I-T department should raise a demand of more than Rs 4,600 crore from the saffron party for such violations.

Ramesh alleged that through the 'electoral bonds scam', the BJP has collected Rs 8,200 crore and used the route of 'pre-paid, post-paid, post-raid bribes and shell companies'.

On the other hand, the BJP is engaged in 'tax terrorism', he alleged.

"Efforts are being made to financially cripple the Congress, but we are not going to be cowed down," Ramesh said.

He asserted that the Congress's campaign for the upcoming parliamentary polls will continue and the party will take its guarantees to the people of the country.

"We will not be scared of these notices. We will be more aggressive and fight these polls," the former Union minister said.

Maken alleged that the Congress and other like-minded opposition parties are being selectively targeted by the I-T department, which he described as the BJP's 'frontal organisation'.

The I-T department has launched a premeditated, diabolical campaign against the Congress by reopening matters of old returns on baseless grounds, he said.

Maken said the Congress will approach the Supreme Court soon over the I-T department's demands from it.

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News Network
April 11,2024

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Real estate tycoon Truong My Lan was sentenced Thursday to death by a court in Ho Chi Minh city in southern Vietnam in the country's largest financial fraud case ever, state media Thanh Nien said.

It's a rare verdict - she is one of very few women in Vietnam to be sentenced to death for a white collar crime, i.e. looting one of the country's largest banks over a period of 11 years.

The decision is a reflection of the dizzying scale of the fraud. Truong My Lan was convicted of taking out $44bn (£35bn) in loans from the Saigon Commercial Bank. The verdict requires her to return $27bn, a sum prosecutors said may never be recovered. Some believe the death penalty is the court's way of trying to encourage her to return some of the missing billions.

The habitually secretive communist authorities were uncharacteristically forthright about this case, going into minute detail for the media. They said 2,700 people were summoned to testify, while 10 state prosecutors and around 200 lawyers were involved.

The evidence was in 104 boxes weighing a total of six tonnes. Eighty-five defendants were tried with Truong My Lan, who denied the charges.

"There has never been a show trial like this, I think, in the communist era," says David Brown, a retired US state department official with long experience in Vietnam. "There has certainly been nothing on this scale."

The trial was the most dramatic chapter so far in the "Blazing Furnaces" anti-corruption campaign led by the Communist Party Secretary-General, Nguyen Phu Trong.

A conservative ideologue steeped in Marxist theory, Nguyen Phu Trong believes that popular anger over untamed corruption poses an existential threat to the Communist Party's monopoly on power. He began the campaign in earnest in 2016 after out-manoeuvring the then pro-business prime minister to retain the top job in the party.

 The campaign has seen two presidents and two deputy prime ministers forced to resign, and hundreds of officials disciplined or jailed. Now one of the country's richest women has joined their ranks.

Truong My Lan comes from a Sino-Vietnamese family in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon. It has long been the commercial engine of the Vietnamese economy, dating well back to its days as the anti-communist capital of South Vietnam, with a large, ethnic Chinese community.

She started as a market stall vendor, selling cosmetics with her mother, but began buying land and property after the Communist Party ushered in a period of economic reform, known as Doi Moi, in 1986. By the 1990s, she owned a large portfolio of hotels and restaurants.

Although Vietnam is best known outside the country for its fast-growing manufacturing sector, as an alternative supply chain to China, most wealthy Vietnamese made their money developing and speculating in property.

All land is officially state-owned. Getting access to it often relies on personal relationships with state officials. Corruption escalated as the economy grew, and became endemic.

By 2011, Truong My Lan was a well-known business figure in Ho Chi Minh City, and she was allowed to arrange the merger of three smaller, cash-strapped banks into a larger entity: Saigon Commercial Bank.

Vietnamese law prohibits any individual from holding more than 5% of the shares in any bank. But prosecutors say that through hundreds of shell companies and people acting as her proxies, Truong My Lan actually owned more than 90% of Saigon Commercial.

They accused her of using that power to appoint her own people as managers, and then ordering them to approve hundreds of loans to the network of shell companies she controlled.

The amounts taken out are staggering. Her loans made up 93% of all the bank's lending.

According to prosecutors, over a period of three years from February 2019, she ordered her driver to withdraw 108 trillion Vietnamese dong, more than $4bn (£2.3bn) in cash from the bank, and store it in her basement.

That much cash, even if all of it was in Vietnam's largest denomination banknotes, would weigh two tonnes.

She was also accused of bribing generously to ensure her loans were never scrutinised. One of those who was tried used to be a chief inspector at the central bank, who was accused of accepting a $5m bribe.

The mass of officially sanctioned publicity about the case channelled public anger over corruption against Truong My Lan, whose fatigued, unmade-up appearance in court was in stark contrast to the glamorous publicity photos people had seen of her in the past.

But questions are also being asked about why she was able to keep on with the alleged fraud for so long.

"I am puzzled," says Le Hong Hiep who runs the Vietnam Studies Programme at the ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore.

"Because it wasn't a secret. It was well known in the market that Truong My Lan and her Van Thinh Phat group were using SCB as their own piggy bank to fund the mass acquisition of real estate in the most prime locations.

"It was obvious that she had to get the money from somewhere. But then it is such a common practice. SCB is not the only bank that is used like this. So perhaps the government lost sight because there are so many similar cases in the market."

David Brown believes she was protected by powerful figures who have dominated business and politics in Ho Chi Minh City for decades. And he sees a bigger factor in play in the way this trial is being run: a bid to reassert the authority of the Communist Party over the free-wheeling business culture of the south.

"What Nguyen Phu Trong and his allies in the party are trying to do is to regain control of Saigon, or at least stop it from slipping away.

"Up until 2016 the party in Hanoi pretty much let this Sino-Vietnamese mafia run the place. They would make all the right noises that local communist leaders are supposed to make, but at the same time they were milking the city for a substantial cut of the money that was being made down there."

At 79 years old, party chief Nguyen Phu Trong is in shaky health, and will almost certainly have to retire at the next Communist Party Congress in 2026, when new leaders will be chosen.

He has been one of the longest-serving and most consequential secretary-generals, restoring the authority of the party's conservative wing to a level not seen since the reforms of the 1980s. He clearly does not want to risk permitting enough openness to undermine the party's hold on political power.

But he is trapped in a contradiction. Under his leadership the party has set an ambitious goal of reaching rich country status by 2045, with a technology and knowledge-based economy. This is what is driving the ever-closer partnership with the United States.

Yet faster growth in Vietnam almost inevitably means more corruption. Fight corruption too much, and you risk extinguishing a lot of economic activity. Already there are complaints that bureaucracy has slowed down, as officials shy away from decisions which might implicate them in a corruption case.

"That's the paradox," says Le Hong Hiep. "Their growth model has been reliant on corrupt practices for so long. Corruption has been the grease that that kept the machinery working. If they stop the grease, things may not work any more."

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News Network
April 14,2024

Riyadh: Saudi Arabia on Sunday expressed deep concern over the military escalation in the Middle East and urged all parties involved to exercise restraint, the Saudi Press Agency reported, citing a statement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs warned of "serious repercussions" on the region and its peoples from the dangers of a wider war, according to SPA.

Iran on Saturday launched drones and missiles against Israel, making good its threat to retaliate against the Israeli air strike that destroyed an Iranian embassy annex building in Damascus, Syria, killing at least 13 people, including two generals of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard.

The Saudi ministry "affirmed the Kingdom’s position calling for the need for the Security Council to assume its responsibility towards maintaining international peace and security, especially in this region that is extremely sensitive to global peace and security, and to prevent the escalation of the crisis that will have serious consequences if it expands," said the SPA report. 

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News Network
April 9,2024

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More decomposed bodies have been found inside al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza, amid operations to recover bodies of the victims of one of the largest massacres committed by Israel against the Palestinians, Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor says.

The founder and chairman of the group Ramy Abdu said in a series of social media posts that “operations to discover bodies executed by the Israeli army at al-Shifa Hospital continue.”

He published a “shocking” video that showed rescue teams, civil defense, and forensic evidence finding more decomposed bodies.

“It seems we are witnessing one of the largest massacres committed by Israel against the Palestinian people in history.”

Abdu said the video confirmed the Geneva-based rights group’s report on field execution operations carried out by the Israeli forces during their recent attack on al-Shifa.

“Horror: Doctors, nurses, displaced persons, administrators at the hospital, children, women. This is what is revealed after the Israeli army's withdrawal from al-Shifa Hospital. Dozens of people were executed in the field,” he said.

According to his remarks, the Israeli army placed the bodies inside pits it had dug.

On March 18, Israeli forces started a new wave of attacks on Gaza’s main hospital, al-Shifa, and imposed a two-week siege on it. 

On April 1, the Gaza Health Ministry said Israeli forces withdrew tanks and vehicles from al-Shifa, adding that dozens of bodies, some of them decomposed, had been found at the complex after the Israeli pullout, which also left behind a vast swath of destruction.

Israel first raided the hospital in Gaza City last November.

Al-Shifa, Gaza’s largest hospital, has sheltered thousands of Palestinians who fled Israel’s invasion in the northern parts of the territory.

The Israeli military claimed that the Palestinian resistance movement Hamas is using the facility to “conduct and promote terrorist activity.” Hamas has repeatedly denied operating from Shifa and other health facilities.

The chief of the World Health Organization (WHO) has said al-Shifa is no longer functional because of months of Israeli siege and attacks on the facility.

Israel launched the war on Gaza on October 7 after the Palestinian resistance movement Hamas waged the surprise Operation Al-Aqsa Storm against the occupying entity in response to the Israeli regime’s intensified violence against Palestinians.

Since the start of the offensive, the Tel Aviv regime has killed 33,207 Palestinians and injured nearly 75,933 others.

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