NEW DELHI (AP) – India’s finance ministry accused the BBC of tax evasion on Friday, saying it had not fully disclosed income and profits from its operations in the country.
Indian tax authorities ended three days of raids on the British broadcaster’s offices in New Delhi and Mumbai on Thursday evening. Opposition political parties and other media organizations have criticized the searches as an attempt to intimidate the media.
Critics of Prime Minister Narendra Modi have questioned the timing of the searches, which came weeks after the BBC aired a documentary in Britain critical of Modi.
“The department gathered several evidences relating to the operations of the organization indicating that tax has not been paid on certain remittances which have not been declared as income in India by the foreign entities of the group,” the Central Board of Direct Taxes said in a statement.
It said it found “several discrepancies and inconsistencies” and had gathered “crucial evidence” from staff statements, digital evidence and documents that will be examined more fully later.
The statement also accused the BBC of not paying full tax on the earnings of staff who came from abroad and worked in India for short periods.
There was no immediate comment from the BBC. It said Thursday it would continue to cooperate with Indian authorities and hoped the matter could be resolved as soon as possible.
The Press Trust of India news agency cited unnamed officials as saying on Thursday that investigators collected financial data from selected BBC employees and made copies of electronic and paper data from the news organization.
It said the investigation was carried out to examine issues relating to international taxation and transfer pricing by BBC subsidiaries.
The leader of India’s main opposition Congress party, Mallikarjun Kharge, has described the search of the BBC’s offices as an attack on press freedom under Modi’s government.
Reporters Without Borders, an international media watchdog, condemned the government’s action as “an attempt to crack down on independent media”.
“These raids appear to be a reprisal against the BBC for releasing a documentary critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi three weeks ago. They have come at a time when independent media is increasingly being hounded and when pluralism is shrinking in India due to increased media concentration, the group said in a statement on Thursday.
The documentary “India: The Modi Question”, broadcast in Britain last month, examined the prime minister’s role in the 2002 anti-Muslim riots in the western state of Gujarat, where he was chief minister at the time. More than 1,000 people were killed in the violence.
Modi has denied allegations that authorities under his watch allowed and even encouraged the bloodshed, and the Supreme Court said it found no evidence to prosecute him. Last year, the court dismissed a petition filed by a Muslim victim questioning Modi’s exemption.
The program received an immediate backlash from India’s government, which invoked emergency powers under its information technology laws to block it from being shown in the country. Local authorities fought to stop screenings organized at Indian universities, and social media platforms including Twitter and YouTube complied with government requests to remove links to the documentary.
The BBC said at the time that the documentary was “rigorously researched” and involved a wide range of voices and opinions.
“We offered the Indian government the right to respond to the issues raised in the series – it refused to respond,” the statement said.
India’s Ministry of External Affairs called the documentary a “propaganda piece designed to push a particularly discredited narrative” that lacked objectivity.