After two days of raids on different locations of film actor and self-styled philanthropist Sonu Sood and premises linked to him, the Income Tax department said today that tax evasion worth Rs 20 crore by Sood and his associates has been unearthed so far apart from Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) violations.
The department had conducted a search and seizure operation at various premises of Sood in Mumbai as well as a Lucknow-based group real estate group. Total 28 premises in Mumbai, Lucknow, Kanpur, Jaipur, Delhi and Gurugram were searched over two days.
The Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) said in a statement that “during the course of search at the premises of the actor and his associates, incriminating evidence pertaining to tax evasion have been found.”
It said the modus operandi Sonu Sood followed involved routing his unaccounted income in the form of bogus unsecured loans from many fake entities.
“Investigations so far have revealed use of 20 such entries, the providers of which, on examination, have accepted on oath to have given bogus accommodation entries. They have accepted to have issued cheques in lieu of cash. There have been instances where professional receipts have been camouflaged as loans in the books of accounts for the purpose of evasion of tax. It has also been revealed that these bogus loans have been used for making investments and acquiring properties,” the CBDT said.
The department said that the total amount of tax evaded unearthed so far, amounts to more than Rs 20 crore.
Subsequently, the IT department found foreign funds violations in actor’s Sood Charity Foundation, incorporated on 21 July last year when Covid-19 was at its peak and he was involved in a lot of relief work, particularly sending migrant workers to their homes.
The CBDT said that the foundation had collected donations worth Rs 18.94 crore since 1 April, out of which it has spent around Rs 1.9 crore towards various relief work while the balance of Rs 17 crore has been found lying unutilised in the bank account of the foundation.
“It is seen that funds to the tune of Rs 2.1 crore have also been raised by the charity foundation from overseas donors on a crowdfunding platform in violation of (Foreign Contribution Regulation Act) FCRA regulations,” the CBDT statement added.
The I-T department had conducted raids also at various premises of the real estate firm, with whom Sood has entered into a joint venture real estate project and invested substantial funds. The raids, the CBDT statement said, have resulted in the unearthing of incriminating evidence pertaining to tax evasion and irregularities in the books of account.
The company was allegedly involved in bogus billing of subcontracting expenses and siphoning off of funds. Evidence of such bogus contracts worth Rs 65 crore has been found so far apart from unaccounted cash expenses, unaccounted sale of scrap and digital data evidencing unaccounted cash transactions.
“Further, it has been unearthed that the said infrastructure group has entered into a dubious circular transaction to the tune of Rs 175 crore with an infrastructure company based in Jaipur. Further investigations are being carried out to establish the full extent of tax evasion. Cash Rs 1.8 crore has been seized during the search (at a company) and 11 lockers have been placed under prohibitory order,” the CBDT said.
The raids are continuing, it added.
Sonu Sood ‘faked’ philanthropy
“Pack your stuff, friend, tomorrow in the morning, you will be at your home!” These famous lines from Bollywood actor cum messiah Sonu Sood had been doing the rounds on Twitter in the midst of the Covid-19 outbreak that had scared migrant workers to leave for their villages, as false alarms were raised that relief centres were running out of food for the poor. Sonu Sood, now under the CBDT scanner, emerged from the reels to turn a real-life ‘hero’ then.
The IT department, as the CBDT is popularly referred to as, has allegedly found that Sonu Sood’s income from films is not all clean. Besides Sonu Sood’s Sood Charity Foundation, the department says, has been round-tripping money.
As of September 2021, Sonu Sood’s net worth is $ 17 million or Rs 130 crore. The CBDT has recovered incriminating evidence from his locations, which include software that creates bots for Twitter that were used for his PR exercise.
Sonu Sood not only created panic by advising migrant workers to pack their belongings in May 2020 but also helped, or so claimed his bots, many migrants reach home. When the second wave struck, Sonu Sood claimed he was offering free treatment to the coronavirus-infected. That was not all. He would not just supply the needy with oxygen but also set up oxygen plants!
Twitter was suddenly flooded with accounts asking him for equipment like medicine, hospital, beds and thermometers and then every account of the type disappeared within a couple of days of surfacing. Sonu Sood was, nevertheless, turning into a ‘messiah’ with such tweet blitzkrieg.
The actor might have inspired several fake philanthropists, some of whom in Uttarakhand claimed they were “helping the people” by transporting them via private helicopters! Several times a team of five to ten people was seen using a helicopter to send thermometers and an oximeter to a village. These ‘social servants’ claimed they were associates of Sonu Sood!
A question arose as to how this actor, who was hardly a star, could afford the money as well as the requisite logistics for this huge exercise. Besides appearing in Salman Khan’s Dabangg 1 as a baddie, he is seen mostly in run-of-the-mill south Indian films playing a sidekick of the villain. In any case, the economy of the film industry had collapsed, with the government allowing theatres to open finally after a year of lockdown with restrictions of social distancing.
At this point, the Bombay High Court asked why some people were stocking medicines at a time when patients faced a scarcity of essential drugs. The court asked on whose prescription these medicines were being dispensed so casually. It wondered what would become of the gullible patients. Dealing with the case, the court ordered the state government to investigate the role of local Maharashtra Congress MLA Zeeshan Siddiqui and actor Sonu Sood in matters related to Covid-19. The court said in its order that celebrities were projecting themselves as messiahs with no expertise in medicine, which was illegal.
Overseas employment — Rs 250 crore investment from Singapore
In May 2020, Sonu Sood was shown helping people on Twitter. Two months later, he secretly launched a new website named ‘Pravasi Rozgar’. Surprisingly, a company named ‘Temasek’ of the Singapore government invested Rs 250 crore in this website that had hardly started and had no achievement to show.
It turned out that the Singapore investor was linked to DB Corp aka Dainik Bhaskar Group, which had been raided by the IT department in the past.
Then, Education and Technology Services Limited wing of IL&FS (Infrastructure Leasing and Financial Services Limited) sold Schoolnet to Falafal Technology Private Limited under the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC) in September 2020.
On 27 August this year, the Arvind Kejriwal government of Delhi made Sonu Sood the brand ambassador of the program related to school students. Arvind Kejriwal launched ‘Desh Ke Mentors’ scheme, connected to Schoolnet through Sonu Sood.
Meanwhile, Sonu Sood’s website ‘Pravasi Rozgar’ was renamed ‘GoodWorker’ and turned into a job platform for migrant labourers in India. The site advertised it would help migrant labourers and the unemployed to search for jobs, sitting at home. The site’s app helped users create their resumes (or CV) for free. It claimed it could place the candidates in big e-commerce companies like Amazon, Max Healthcare, Zomato, Sodexo, Amazon, Flipkart, Urban Company, etc.
Sonu Sood then allegedly reached out to the ‘Travel Union’ app last month, dabbling in a ‘Make My Trip’ kind of business. With a difference. It would work exclusively for villagers! The actor said his idea was to spread the digital footprint in the country.
In the meantime, Sonu Sood turned a ‘teacher’, his foundation claimed, providing coaching and scholarships to students preparing for UPSC.
While so far, the mention of Kejriwal in the story could embarrass the AAP, it would not have been surprising if the lost bureaucrats of Digital India had signed up Sonu Sood too but then the I-T raid news spread wildly across the country, alarming the whole system. It was rumoured before the news of the raids broke that the BJP was toying with the idea of recommending Sonu Sood for a Padma Shri.