India searches Aviva Life Insurance office for alleged tax evasion-sources

By Aditya Kalra and Nikunj Ohri

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India’s tax inspectors searched the office of British insurance giant Aviva’s life insurance unit near New Delhi last week and seized documents as part of an investigation into alleged tax evasion, sources familiar with the matter said.

Officers of India’s Directorate General of GST (Goods and Services Tax) Intelligence also seized laptops during their visit on Nov. 7 and questioned some officials including the India CEO Asit Rath and Chief Financial Officer Sonali Athalye, said two of the three sources, who declined to be named due to the sensitivity of the matter.

In a statement, Aviva Life Insurance, India, told Reuters “we can confirm that GST officials visited our head office site, we are in full cooperation with them.” It shared no further details and declined to comment on its executives being questioned.

India’s finance ministry, which controls the GST department, did not immediately respond to an email request for comment.

The Aviva searches are part of a broader investigation involving many insurers who face allegations of at least $610 million in unpaid dues, one of the sources, a senior Indian government official, said.

Companies allegedly accounted for sales commissions above the regulator-prescribed limit as advertising and marketing costs, and then claimed tax credits illegally, the source added.

India’s largest insurer, state-run Life Insurance Corporation, received a 2.9 billion-rupee ($35 million) demand notice from GST authorities in September as part of the investigation, according to a regulatory disclosure, and other players such as HDFC Life and Bajaj Allianz have also faced scrutiny. The insurers have not commented on the investigations.

The amount that Aviva allegedly evaded in taxes was not immediately clear.

UK’s Aviva has a 74% stake in Aviva Life Insurance in India, with the rest owned by India’s Dabur Invest Corp. Aviva’s life insurance business has a less than 0.5% market share on the basis of first-year premium collections in India.

(Reporting by Aditya Kalra and Nikunj Ohri; Editing by Sharon Singleton)