Mauritius has not yet recovered from all the damage done from the revision of its Double Tax Avoidance Agreement (DTAA) with India. To add insult to injury, as it were, India Today, an Indian newscaster, broadcast on 24 May a televised documentary purporting to portray Mauritius as a whole as a centre indulging in money laundering, on the strength of an interview its journalists, disguising themselves as real estate agents, had with a Mauritius Global Business practitioner.
The generalisation of India Today was based on a much hyped Indian corruption scandal, allegedly involving politicians of the previous UPA government of India and officials having taken bribes from an Italian helicopter-selling company, AgustaWestland, on an Indian government helicopter deal way back in 2010. In 2013, India’s then Defence Minister, AK Antony, had confirmed corruption allegations which led to investigations by India’s Enforcement Directorate (ED). The ED has sent Rogatory Letters to 8 countries in this respect: Italy, Tunisia, Mauritius, United Arab Emirates, the UK, Switzerland, Singapore and the British Virgin Islands. Mauritius is not alone in this group even if one of its companies might well be an unwitting recipient of part of the tainted money but so is the case for the other countries.
On 8th April 2016, a court in Milan, Italy, convicted the chief executive of AgustaWestland, to 4 years’ imprisonment for paying bribes amounting to 30 million euros to allegedly Indian politicians, bureaucrats and Indian Air Force officials as part of a $530 million deal to sell 12 helicopters to India.
One of the suspects in the case of taking bribes in India and his wife have allegedly lodged the share of the bribes received by them in companies and accounts in Bermuda, Mauritius and New York, not in Mauritius alone. India Today interviewed the Mauritius practitioner in this regard with the aim to establish that a Mauritian second class Global Business company (not eligible to benefit from the DTAA) had effectively been recipient of part of the bribe money transferred by internationally reputed overseas banks having the primary duty to ascertain that the funds they are transferring over here are clean and legitimate. It appears that Mauritius is more to blame than the bribe givers, the bribe takers and the transferring overseas banks. Guess why?
From this interview, India Today has sought to generalize a view in India that Mauritius would be wilfully indulging in facilitating money laundering across the board to India’s detriment. It has extended this bad faith by alleging that the Financial Services Commission (FSC) would have enlisted the services of the alleged mastermind behind the AgustaWestland scandal, Mr Gautam Khaitan, “as adviser (to the FSC) negotiating the DTAA with India”. The FSC has come out in public to deny having engaged with Mr Khaitan either as adviser or consultant or in any other capacity.
It is not difficult to see that Mauritius is being picked up for special attention in bad light. It is also not difficult to make out that a case is being made to exonerate the manner the DTAA has recently been emptied of its substance, with our complicity, and to give a clear public conscience to the officials who engineered it all to our exclusive detriment.
We should be careful not to answer to this provocation by alienating our ties with India. It is perhaps the real objective of the disseminators of the false news. We should not fall in the trap. We can work with India of tomorrow on friendly terms if we look to the long term. There are many more avenues of cooperation between the two countries for mutual benefit in which we will not necessarily again play the part of a pawn of a rival jurisdiction such as Singapore.
* Published in print edition on 3 June 2016