Musings for a responsible society

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Fake raids and harassments post-demonetization: How to be guarded?

After the demonetization, we keep hearing that the enforcement agencies have stepped up the field actions to curb black money and related activities. Raids are being conducted by Income Tax Department, Enforcement Directorate etc. to unearth evidences and to nab the law evaders.

People love to invade others’ privacy. It doesn't matter whether it is through covert or overt attempts. Authorized officials have every legal right to search you and your belongings if armed with proper warrants specifically allowing them to enter your premises to unearth and seize evidences and valuables. What one has to be guarded is to identify 'fake' search parties and also those officials who misuse their powers for harassing honest persons. 

There are reports of incidents of fake searches happening in many places.  Some are reported and much more go unreported. Most of these fake searches happen in the name of IncomeTax Department. This is the key enforcement department that is in charge of seizing the black money of people. In a world where black money occupies substantial part of the economy, where tax evasion is considered as a crime of the rich, and where white collar criminals are not considered as persons with serious criminality, concealment of assets and income are rampant. Though Income Tax authorities in many countries do not have the power to search the residences of people, countries like India were tax evasion is the order of the day, have effectively used this invasive strategy. 

Blackmailers and fake raiders
Two sets of people use this route to enrich themselves. One group is the blackmailers and the other is the fake raiders. The blackmailers include those close associates of the black money holders who are privy to certain vital information, such as the key employees, erstwhile partners or directors or accountants or auditors. The other set of blackmailers are those who are within the enforcement agency who are in possession of clear and reliable information about the existence of black money with particular persons in particular forms in identifiable places, but prefer to use it for their unjust enrichment than taking action on the holders. They are very dangerous criminals, being traitors of the nation. The second set of people, the subject of this article, is the fake raiders. They are very professional men, who gather independent data about the black money holders and attack them in a professional manner in the guise of taxmen.

Special 26 and raid drama
Neeraj Pandey (man behind the movie ‘A Wednesday’) directed ‘Special 26’  a movie based on true incidents of fake searches a few years back. Akshay Kumar and Anupam Kher enacted the role of fake officials who search the premises of corrupt men and extract their valuables. Though the movie could not give a realistic picture, the message was well conveyed.

A typical fake raid would be like this. The key brains of the team would have prior experience of associating with the Income Tax Department in some manner or other as contingent/temporary employees, retired junior officials, or relatives or acquaintances of investigation officers.  They would also get influenced by the enactments of searches in movies. They get hold of the printed Forms used in a  typical search action like summons, warrants of authorization, panchanama Forms, Inventories of stock, documents and valuables etc. from the office secretly or get it printed as the specimens can be copied from the old Income Tax Rule books available with the street books vendors. (Or they buy fresh copy from the books stall. The cost is much less as compared to the jackpot). Making seals are very easy as there are many craftsmen specialized in this art and who are known for their low profile existence, ready to serve from their dingy rooms in the interior market by-lanes. The fake team collects the information as a decoy customer or by tipping a key employee or through ‘innocent’ conversation with a person who is close to the black money holder. They enact the drama, exactly like a genuine income tax team; but with one difference. They won’t waste their time recording the statements on oath, meticulously filling up the Forms, or analysing the documents in and outside the computers. They would focus only on unearthing the valuables and then enter into a quick bargaining. Many get hoodwinked by such criminals. If the target themselves are criminals, they keep quiet even after they realize that they have been cheated , for the simple reason that they would not want anyone, including the real enforcement agency, to know that they indeed possessed huge unaccounted stuff. 

As depicted in the movie, there are people specialized in this art of raiding. But the less specialized, less sophisticated, and less resourced ones would attack the small businessmen like money lenders, small jewellers, liquor shops, retail vendors etc. in distant towns and upcoming business centres, where real taxmen do not focus. They conduct ‘inspections’, ‘surveys’ and ‘verifications’ in these establishments to extract huge money.

The next set of people is lone and courageous smarties, some of them are either low ranking officials in the government or the retired officials or their close relatives. They threaten businessmen about an impending tax investigation or audit and offer their help to settle the case with the officials of the concerned agency. Gullible businessmen and professionals pay up huge money as demanded by them to escape from the possible harassment and penalization by the officials.

How to identify and tackle fake officials?
  • Ask for the warrant of authorization of any person who comes to your premises for any search.
  • Look at the warrant to check whether the seal, signature and designation of the person issued the warrant are available.
  • Check whether the names and designations of the persons to whom authorizations are given are on the warrant.
  • Ask the official identity cards of the persons who have entered the premises.
  • Ask the phone number of their senior officer.
  • Exercise your right to call that number and sense from the conversation whether the search is genuine.
  • Even at the business premises, if one or more persons come for a verification, survey or inspection, demand their authorization letter and identity cards. Call up in the number of the nearest office of that enforcement agency and check the genuineness.
  • Income tax officials cannot search residential premises without a search warrant. 
  • If you are suspicious about the team and you do not have any contact details of the enforcement agency, inform the nearest police station.
  • Whether the search team is genuine or otherwise, ensure that two known witnesses are called from your own locality to witness the entire proceedings.
  • Get all copies of the lists of documents and valuables seized with the signature and seal of the search party. Be intelligent enough to capture their faces with a digital device. 
  • Don’t get upset and get into criminal hands by surrendering to them and become a victim of their greed.

Even if the search team is genuine, you should know that you have every right to defend yourself legally later on and the punishment can be given to you only after a fair trial, after hearing what you have to say and you are free to solicit the help of a legal practitioner to prepare your explanation during the post search proceedings. None can force you to give a statement that is not true. At the same time, do not try to mislead the genuine search team by giving wrong facts. This may have adverse impact. Admit, if you were wrong. And definitely don't part your money to anyone other than for payment of taxes. 

                                                                                           (Views are personal)
                                                                                           Sibichen K Mathew


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