ANGLE

The Art of Denial

Madhavankutty Pillai has no specialisations whatsoever. He is among the last of the generalists. And also Open chief of bureau, Mumbai  
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How to complicate the complicated

WHAT DOES THE media advisor of Aishwarya Rai share with the Pakistan Joint Investigation Team that came to investigate the Pathankot Air Force base attack? Complete faith in simple denial in the face of evidence to the contrary. When The Indian Express asked the media advisor about Rai’s name in the Panama Papers which showed that the actress had created offshore entities, her reply was, “What is this consortium (ICIJ) and what does it do? Is this an authorised entity and how do we know that the information they get is authentic? All information that you have is totally untrue and false.”

Similarly the Pakistani JIT came, sauntered around Pathankot and then, as per a report in Pakistan Today quoting a source, came to the conclusion that not only were Pakistanis not involved but India attacked its own base. There is a difference between the two denials. The Pakistanis know it doesn’t matter; in Rai’s case it does. Her name figuring in the Panama Papers is irrefutable even if the illegality is uncertain. If you want to deny, be sure you can get away with it. Or at least know what you are denying.

Rai’s father-in-law, Amitabh, is more savvy. His name also figures in the Panama Papers but he refused to give any response when the paper first contacted him. A few days after the story was published, he made a carefully worded statement that he does not know any of the offshore companies but left open the possibility that his name could have been misused. He also said that the paper had not imputed any illegality. This is an outright denial which is not an outright denial and is a good tactic on a subject so complicated that the general public is clueless of what exactly the accusation is. In a country where 97 per cent do not pay Income Tax, tax evasion will hardly be an issue with them.

An even better way to make a denial is to complicate a complicated subject further so that even those who have a faint inkling of what the Panama Papers stand for get woozy. Like lawyer Harish Salve whose response to his name being in the papers included, “I have been remitting funds since maybe 2003 under LRS. Out of these, some were invested in a portfolio in the UK and a patent in the US (a 25 per cent stake with three other friends). Wanted to park these in a BVI company as at that time I was not a UK tax resident and wanted to avoid becoming one... the BVI companies have no value in any event—do not represent an asset or investment abroad. Besides, all LRS remittances are disclosed by the remitting bank to the RBI...”

Businessmen named in the Panama Papers, aided by lawyers as competent as Salve, have similar responses. Should you, upright reacting citizen, be dismayed by the absence of outrage within you over the Panama Papers, don’t blame yourself. There are simpler things to sink your teeth into—like those lying Pakistanis.

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