India blames global media group for tax lapses after BBC inquiry

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Indian tax authorities, who searched the BBC's offices this week, shortly after the British broadcaster aired a documentary critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, said they were probing a "prominent international media company" whose income did not match the scale of its operations in the country.

The tax survey "resulted in unearthing of crucial evidences by way of statement of employees, digital evidences and documents which will be further examined in due course," the Central Board of Direct Taxes said in a statement, without naming the BBC. The organization used delay tactics in showing the required documents, the statement added.

The three-day inquiry at the BBC's Delhi and Mumbai offices ended late Thursday. The investigation followed weeks after it aired a documentary about the 2002 Gujarat riots and Modi's alleged role in the violence in his home state.

Indo-Tibetan Border Police outside the office building where Indian tax authorities raided the BBC's office in New Delhi on Feb. 15.

Sajjad Hussain/AFP/Getty Images

A BBC spokesperson in London did not immediately reply to an email seeking a response to the tax authority's statement.

On Thursday, the broadcaster said it was cooperating with the authorities and "supporting staff — many of whom have faced lengthy questioning or been required to stay overnight — and their welfare is our priority." 

Indian tax officials arrived at the broadcaster's offices on Tuesday. Tax investigations in India can drag on for several months, if not years.

The BBC had restricted broadcast of its two-part documentary, "India: The Modi Question," in the South Asian nation. However, the government ordered social media giants Twitter Inc. and Alphabet Inc.'s YouTube to take down tweets and videos about the film. The foreign ministry also dismissed the film, aired in January, as a "propaganda" piece. 

The film had raised the charge, made by many human rights groups, that Modi, who was chief minister of Gujarat at the time of the 2002 riots, did little to quell the violence. He denied the allegations that were later dismissed by India's Supreme Court.

More than 1,000 people — mostly Muslims — were killed in the sectarian violence across the state after a train carrying Hindu pilgrims was burned, allegedly by a Muslim mob. 

Rights groups and some independent media organizations have accused Modi's government of creating an atmosphere of fear for activists since it came to power in 2014. In 2020 Amnesty International shut down its India operations after what it called "constant harassment" from government agencies, including the freezing of its bank accounts in the country.

— With assistance from Alex Wickham

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