New Delhi — Dozens of government tax officials showed up Wednesday at the BBC’s offices in India for a second consecutive day as part of a “survey” being conducted over alleged tax evasion by the British broadcaster. Indian news reports said laptops and mobile phones belonging to several journalists and employees were seized on Tuesday from BBC offices in Delhi and Mumbai by the officials.
India’s Income Tax Department said the “survey” was being carried out “in view of the BBC’s deliberate non-compliance with the Transfer Pricing Rules and its vast diversion of profits,” calling the broadcaster a “repeat offender.”
The BBC said it was “fully co-operating” with the tax authorities.
“We are supporting our staff during this time and continue to hope to have this situation resolved as soon as possible,” the broadcaster said in a statement. “Our output and journalism continues as normal and we are committed to serving our audiences in India.”
In an email to employees in India, the BBC urged all but its broadcast department staff to work from home for the time being. The email noted that while no employees were compelled to answer questions about their personal income, “they should answer other salary-related queries” and “answer questions comprehensively.”
The searches, which the tax officials insisted should be described as “surveys” and not raids or searches for technical reasons, come just weeks after the BBC aired a documentary in the U.K. critical of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The documentary, “India: The Modi Question,” examines the premier’s role in deadly religious riots in Gujarat in 2002, when he was the chief minister of the western Indian state. More than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed during the riots. Modi faced allegations of complicity in the violence but he was absolved of all charges by Indian courts in 2013.
The Indian government government banned any airing of the documentary in the country last month, calling it “a propaganda piece designed to push a particular discredited narrative.”
The BBC said its documentary was “rigorously researched” and it has stood by all of the information presented.
India’s opposition Congress party condemned the tax department’s “survey” of the BBC’s offices in the country, calling them “intimidation tactics.”
“The IT raid at BBC’s offices reeks of desperation and shows that the Modi government is scared of criticism,” Congress leader K.C. Venugopal wrote on Twitter.
While tax officials called the searches “routine,” Modi’s ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) lashed out at the BBC for “spewing venom against India” and said the Income Tax department should be allowed to do its job.
“India’s constitution gives the BBC a right to practice unbiased journalism, but I wish to give examples of what kind of an agenda is practiced in the garb of journalism,” Gaurav Bhatia, a BJP spokesperson said during a news conference while the searches were being carried out.
“What kind of a reporting is that [sic] the BBC described a Kashmiri terrorist commander as a charismatic young militant?” Bhatia asked, citing an example of what his party views as the BBC’s “anti-India agenda.”
He said the BBC had “unleashed the most venomous attack against our country.”
State Department spokesman Ned Price said Tuesday that the U.S. government was aware of the “search of the BBC offices in Delhi by Indian tax authorities,” but referred to Indian authorities for any details.
“Broadly… we support the importance of free press around the world,” Price added. “We continue to highlight the importance of freedom of expression and freedom of religion or belief as human rights that contribute to strengthening democracies around the world.”
In a statement, the Editors Guild of India, an organization that advocates for press freedom, blasted the tax authorities’ “survey” as a “continuation of a trend of using government agencies to intimidate and harass press organizations that are critical of government policies or the ruling establishment.”
Last week, India’s Supreme Court rejected a petition by a right-wing political group to completely ban the BBC in the country over the Modi documentary. The judges said the petition was “entirely misconceived and has no merit.”