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Singh & Associates, Delhi BCD exec chair Manoj K Singh raided by IT: ‘Strongly deny’ cash seizure [UPDATE-1]

The IT department alleges recovery of Rs 5.5 crore in cash, oodles of incriminating documents over years

Manoj K Singh firm Singh & Associates raided by IT
Manoj K Singh firm Singh & Associates raided by IT

The law firm Singh & Associates, which has been on a lateral hiring spree this year, has been raided by the government’s Income Tax Department (ITD) yesterday as part of a raid on its founding partner Manoj K Singh.

We have reached out to Singh and the firm and two of its spokespersons for comment and will update this story if and when we get anything.

Update 20 October: Singh & Associates has made the following statement:

We write to you with regards to your article dated 15th October 2020, published on the platform Legally India. In the wee hours of Wednesday, 14th October 2020, the Income Tax Officials knocked on our doors and proceeded to search our premises. We are immensely proud of our team for fully cooperating with the officials. However, we strongly refute and deny the allegations of seizure of Rs 5.5 crores cash, as stated in your article; the same is false.

We hereby assert and notify you that no such cash as indicated in your article was seized from the premises/offices of Singh & Associates or our Founding Partner Mr Manoj K Singh.

Your article’s contents about unaccounted cash transactions are false, baseless and misleading. This has severely damaged our brand name, reputation and goodwill in the market.

We request you to take cognizance of all the facts presented to you and also request you to recheck your facts with the concerned authorities and publish a clarification conveying our stance to your readers.

According to the ITD, it had carried out a “search and seizure action... in the case of a leading advocate practicing (sic) in the field of commercial arbitration and alternate dispute resolution”, across 38 properties in Delhi, NCR and Haryana.

The department said that it had recovered Rs 5.5 crore in cash and found “incriminating documents of unaccounted cash transactions and investments” over several years, including “substantial digital data reflecting unaccounted transactions of the assessee and his associates, who are financers and builders”.

The department did not name the advocate, but we understand according to two authoritative sources with knowledge of the raid, that the firm’s founding partner Manoj Kumar Singh was the target of the raid, which the firm has denied [UPDATE-1: See statement above].

Besides being the founder of Singh & Associates, Manoj K Singh was only last month elected as chairman of the Delhi bar council’s executive committee, and is part of the bar council’s rules committee, according to a press release on 9 September 2020. (Senior advocate Ramesh Gupta was elected chairman, with Himal Akhtar as vice-chairman of the Delhi bar council at the same time).

According to the department’s release, the unnamed advocate was “suspected to be receiving substantial amounts in cash from his clients, to settle their disputes”, and had allegedly “received Rs. 117 crore from a client in cash, whereas he had shown only Rs 21 crore in his records, which was received through cheque”.

“In another case, he received more than Rs. 100 crore in cash from an infrastructure and engineering company for its arbitration proceedings with a public sector company,” claimed the department.

The tax department alleged in its statement that the “unaccounted cash received, has been invested by the assessee in purchase of residential and commercial properties and in taking over of trusts engaged in running of schools”, adding: “Evidences recovered indicate investment of more than Rs. 100 crore in cash in several properties in posh areas in the last two years. The assessee and his associates have also purchased several schools and properties, for which also more than Rs. 100 crore was paid in cash. He has also taken accommodation entries worth several crores.”

Singh is not the first law firm founder to have faced raids from the tax man.

In 2016, T&T Law founder Rohit Tandon declared Rs 125 crore to the tax department after a raid.

And in 2019, prior to the arrest of OP Khaitan & Co managing partner Gautam Khaitan for alleged involvement in the AgustaWestland chopper scam, he had been raided by the tax department.

Manoj K Singh: Decorated man & firm

From Singh & Associates firm brochure
From Singh & Associates firm brochure

We have no information or indication at present that the investigation goes beyond anyone other than Manoj K Singh himself, though some of the firm’s offices were included in the tax raids.

Singh & Associates has offices in New Delhi, Gurugram, Mumbai and Bengaluru, and according to its website is an “ISO 9001:2015 certified full service law firm” with more than 230 “advocates, chartered accountants, company secretaries, patent agents, trademark agents, engineers, pharma experts, Professionals (BD/Marketing, HR, IT), specialized paralegal staff – representing and assisting clients on litigation, ADR, transactional works, advisory, regulatory, labor & employment, tax, IPR and related matters”.

Manoj K Singh founded the firm in 2002, according to his Linked-in profile, which states that he:

Practices, appears and argues matters in Supreme Court of India and various High Courts in the country including but not limited to New Delhi, Mumbai, Chandigarh, Patna Bangalore, Indore, etc. Also appears in the District Courts, including but not limited to Patialla House Courts, Tees Hazari, Dwarka District Court, Kakardooma District Court, Rohini District Court, and various Tribunals including Custom Excise Appellate Tribunal, Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Commission, Debt Recovery Tribunal, State and National Consumer Redressal Forums etc on the basis of requirement.

He is the Special Counsel for TRANSCO, New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC), and was previously also empanelled with Delhi Development Authority (DDA).

However, Singh & Associates high production values brochure, includes Manoj K Singh's name on every one of its 27 pages.

The firm and Singh have been highly active on a public relations and marketing front, especially in recent years, as indicated by its brochure including a long list of plaudits and superlatives about the firm, as well as apparently having won pretty much every Indian legal award and ranking available with more than 50 listings.

The awards and citations by Singh and/or the firm include: Asialaw, numerous citations by Asian Legal Business (including its “Most Innovative Law Firms in India” in its “2020 trailblazers” and “India Firms To Watch 2020”), a number of Legal 500 rankings, with Chambers ranking Singh as a “recognized practitioner in disputes resolution” in 2019, “Award Winning Law Firm” in IBLJ’s India Law Firm Awards 2020, several “40 under 40” awards by Legal Era, Law Firm of the Year 2019 by Indo American Chamber of Commerce, Special Recognition for Service to the Legal Profession in 2019 by Legal League Consulting, one the “100 Legal Luminaries of India” by Lexis Nexis, inclusion in the IFLR1000 as a “notable law firm” and many more.

It also includes a list of more than 500 client companies.

The firm has three partners who are on management - Manoj K Singh as founding partner, Daizy Chawla as managing partner and Gunita Pahwa as joint managing partner.

According to its website, there are also three senior partners (which includes a “director finance”, who does not have a full profile on its web page or a Linked-in profile).

The web site also lists seven (non-senior) partners, of whom three had joined only this year.

The firm states it has a headcount of more than 230 professionals (not just including lawyers, see above); on its website it lists 8 principal associates, 11 senior associates and 24 associates, besides the partners.

Full tax department statement

Income Tax Department carries out searches in Delhi, NCR and Haryana Posted On: 15 OCT 2020 7:34PM by PIB Delhi

The Income Tax Department has carried out a search and seizure action on 14.10.2020 in the case of a leading advocate practicing in the field of commercial arbitration and alternate dispute resolution. He was suspected to be receiving substantial amounts in cash from his clients, to settle their disputes. During the search 38 premises spread over Delhi, NCR and Haryana have been covered.

During the search, cash of Rs. 5.5 crore has been seized, while 10 lockers have been placed under restraint. Incriminating documents of unaccounted cash transactions and investments made by the assessee over several years have been found. Substantial digital data reflecting unaccounted transactions of the assessee and his associates, who are financers and builders, has also been recovered.

In one case, the assessee had received Rs. 117 crore from a client in cash, whereas he had shown only Rs. 21 crore in his records, which was received through cheque. In another case, he received more than Rs. 100 crore in cash from an infrastructure and engineering company for its arbitration proceedings with a public sector company.

The unaccounted cash received, has been invested by the assessee in purchase of residential and commercial properties and in taking over of trusts engaged in running of schools. Evidences recovered indicate investment of more than Rs. 100 crore in cash in several properties in posh areas in the last two years. The assessee and his associates have also purchased several schools and properties, for which also more than Rs. 100 crore was paid in cash. He has also taken accommodation entries worth several crores.

Further investigations are in progress.

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