Panoramic’s rebuttal is low on facts but high on obfuscation

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TEHELKA REJOINDER

Ashish Khetan
New Delhi

Panoramic view: Tehelka’s cover story dated 23 July
Panoramic view: Tehelka’s cover story dated 23 July

IN ITS rebuttal to our story (High Profits of Ghost Hotels, 23 July) Panoramic Universal has chosen the oft-used stratagem of resorting to trite and insipid legal jargon — malicious, misleading, biased, etc. — instead of contesting the specifics of the story.

The TEHELKA story was basically about how Panoramic Universal had stashed away Rs 200 crore in its US bank accounts between 2005-10. The monies were transferred using seemingly dubious entities in countries such as Singapore, Hong Kong and Dubai. And it was raised in the name of hospitality consultancy against prima facie bogus invoices. The TEHELKA story was based on more than 1,000 documents including bank statements, bogus invoices, internal communications, etc.

The TEHELKA story also mentioned that the CBDT investigators believed this could just be a tip of the iceberg as the company had brought in substantial amounts of remittances in the country during the same period. Some of these monies had gone into buying real estate in India and abroad. On the face of it, it appeared as a well-oiled money-laundering racket. However, in its rebuttal, Panoramic has chosen to not contest this core argument of the TEHELKA story and instead obfuscated the whole issue by weaving a web of half-truths and half-lies.

It’s true that a Panoramic employee, Ravikumar Loganathan, is serving a jail sentence in the US for embezzling the company’s funds. But it’s not true that Loganathan had anything to do with whistleblower Arvind Kumar who blew the lid off the company’s money-laundering business by complaining to US authorities.

In his interview with this reporter, Panoramic CEO Gopal Viswanathan had admitted that the company had not lodged any criminal complaint against Kumar till date (a recording of the interview is available with TEHELKA). In another meeting, Panoramic’s company secretary had told this reporter that they had no complaints against Kumar. The question that then arises is: if the company had a case against Kumar as far as the alleged embezzlement of funds was concerned, what stopped it from launching a criminal case against Kumar as well (just as they had done against Loganathan)? Till date, Panoramic had filed merely a civil defamation case against Kumar for complaining to the US authorities against the company’s alleged money-laundering racket.

THE FACT remains that Kumar was not the only whistleblower. There were at least two more employees, both US nationals, who had also described Panoramic’s business as that of money-laundering. TEHELKA spoke with both these employees and they were quoted in our story. Panoramic has chosen not to question the motives of these two employees.

Despite being given sufficient opportunity to clear its stand, Panoramic chose to hide behind the civil defamation suit that it had filed against Kumar and gave TEHELKA a rhetorical response that was sufficiently quoted in the story.

Panoramic has once again taken recourse to high-sounding claims instead of contesting the story on specific facts. And at some places, it has chosen to beat around the bush. For instance, the TEHELKA story said that Panoramic was a Rs 1,000 crore entity — a figure that was quoted from press releases and articles posted on the company’s website. But in the rebuttal, Panoramic has tried to confuse it with figures from its turnover for 2009-10.

While Panoramic’s complex and layered business needs a detailed investigation by competent government agencies under relevant civil and criminal laws, TEHELKAwould begin by asking Panoramic a few pointed questions, the reply to which could well be a starting point to demystify the whole issue. Would it like to name and detail each overseas firm that had remitted money to Panoramic’s subsidiaries in the US or the parent company in India over the past six years?

Panoramic could begin by sharing details like the names, addresses, telephone numbers, names of directors or owners, nature of businesses that each of these companies (that were paying the money to Panoramic) have been involved in.

Once Panoramic has answered this basic question, a spate of other issues related to the company’s businesses and finances raised by TEHELKA in its cover story could then be taken up for microscopic scrutiny.

TEHELKA is prepared to discuss each and every aspect of its story with the Panoramic management in full public view. And as a reporter, I’d be keenly looking forward to Panoramic accepting this challenge.

letters@tehelka.com

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