'ED can withhold names of tax evaders in Panama Papers'

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The names of alleged tax evaders appearing in the Panama Papers leak can be withheld by the Enforcement Directorate from disclosure, the Central Information Commission has held.

The Commission made these observations while deciding the plea of Durga Prasad Choudhary who did not get a satisfactory response from the agency on his RTI application.

Choudhary, in 2017, had sought information on three points -- the list of people named in the Panama Papers, action taken on the leak, and the details of the officers responsible for the delay in the investigation.

The agency claimed exemption from disclosure under Section 24(1) to deny the request after the matter reached the Commission, the highest adjudicating body to decide RTI matters.

During the hearing, Choudhary said he had not been provided information whereas this was a serious matter pertaining to corruption at higher levels.

"He drew the attention of the Commission to various media reports in national and international newspapers on the said subject of disclosure of names of individuals whose names appeared in Panama Papers," the Commission noted.

The Enforcement Directorate also reiterated exemption given to it under the law and argued that the matter is sub-judice hence details cannot be shared at this stage.

Section 24(1) of the RTI Act exempts certain intelligence and security organisations from the ambit of the transparency law unless the sought for information pertains to allegations of corruption and human rights violations.

Dubbed as Panama Papers, an investigation of a stockpile of records from Panamanian legal firm Mossack Fonseca by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists had named several world leaders and celebrities who had allegedly stashed away money abroad in offshore companies.

"Keeping in view the facts of the case and the submissions made by both the parties and in the light of the decision of the Superior Courts granting protection to the Respondent Public Authority under Section 24 of the RTI Act, 2005, no further intervention of the Commission is required in the matter," Information Commissioner Bimal Julka said.

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