Gold smuggling likely to rise in India as festive buyers try to avoid new tax

A Indian legislation makes it mandatory for jewelers to keep records of customers’ personal identification numbers or tax code number for transactions above 50,000 rupees. (Reuters)
Updated 27 September 2017
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Gold smuggling likely to rise in India as festive buyers try to avoid new tax

MUMBAI: Gold smuggling in India, the world’s second-biggest consumer of the metal, is likely to rise during the country’s peak holiday season as buyers try to avoid paying a new sales tax and to dodge new transparency rules.
In August, India moved to include gold sales under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA). The law makes it mandatory for jewelers to keep records of customers’ personal identification numbers or tax code number for transactions above 50,000 rupees (SR2,870).
Indian gold demand typically rises in the last three months of the year as consumer buy more for the wedding season as well as for festivals such as Diwali and Dussehra.
“The government implemented the PMLA rule but it didn’t take efforts to popularise. Customers are not aware of the rule and are hesitating in giving necessary details,” said Surendra Mehta, secretary of the India Bullion and Jewelers Association. “Unaccounted sale will rise in the festive season as some customers are trying to buy without bills.”
The tax avoidance recalls the unintended consequences of India’s decision to raise import taxes on gold to 10 percent by August 2013.
The duty failed to curb demand but revived smuggling networks which, the World Gold Council estimates, imported 120 tons of gold in 2016, over one-fifth of total annual arrivals.
“The new rule is turning out to be counterproductive. Instead of giving required details, customers are buying without proper receipts to save tax,” said Harshad Ajmera, the proprietor of JJ Gold House, a wholesaler in the eastern Indian city Kolkata.
The sales tax on gold rose to 3 percent from 1.2 percent as part of a new nationwide sales tax regime that started on July 1.
“Jewelers are buying smuggled gold at discount in cash, then making jewelery and selling it to consumers without receipts,” said Daman Prakash Rathod, director at wholesaler MNC Bullion in the southern city of Chennai.
In India, less than 4 percent of the people pay income tax. Many tax evaders choose to park their illicit wealth in gold as it is nearly as liquid as currency in the country.
The new limit of 50,000 rupees is too low and makes it mandatory to seek identification details of almost each customer, said Kumar Jain, vice president, Mumbai Jewellers Association.
“The rule has hurt sentiments. Usually demand improves ahead of Dussehra but this year demand is very weak,” Jain said.
Indians will celebrate Dussehra on September 30, a holiday when buying gold is considered auspicious.
Rural demand for gold, the driver of two-thirds of India’s demand, was weak because of erratic monsoon rains and rising gold prices, said Mangesh Devi, a jeweler in the western state of Maharashtra, who caters mainly farmers.
Local gold prices have risen nearly 9 percent so far in 2017.
India’s food grain production from summer-sown crops is likely to fall 2.8 percent in 2017/18 from a year ago.


Palestinians in financial crisis after Israel, US moves

Updated 22 March 2019
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Palestinians in financial crisis after Israel, US moves

  • A Ramallah-based economics professor said the Palestinian economy more generally, remain totally controlled by and reliant on Israel
  • Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts have been at a standstill since 2014

RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories: The Palestinian Authority faces a suffocating financial crisis after deep US aid cuts and an Israeli move to withhold tax transfers, sparking fears for the stability of the West Bank.
The authority, headed by President Mahmud Abbas, announced a package of emergency measures on March 10, including halving the salaries of many civil servants.
The United States has cut more than $500 million in Palestinian aid in the last year, though only a fraction of that went directly to the PA.
The PA has decided to refuse what little US aid remains on offer for fear of civil suits under new legislation passed by Congress.
Israel has also announced it intends to deduct around $10 million a month in taxes it collects for the PA in a dispute over payments to the families of prisoners in Israeli jails.
In response, Abbas has refused to receive any funds at all, labelling the Israeli reductions theft.
That will leave his government with a monthly shortfall of around $190 million for the length of the crisis.
The money makes up more than 50 percent of the PA’s monthly revenues, with other funds coming from local taxes and foreign aid.

While the impact of the cuts is still being assessed, analysts fear it could affect the stability of the occupied West Bank.
“If the economic situation remains so difficult and the PA is unable to pay salaries and provide services, in addition to continuing (Israeli) settlement expansion it will lead to an explosion,” political analyst Jihad Harb said.
Abbas cut off relations with the US administration after President Donald Trump declared the disputed city of Jerusalem Israel’s capital in December 2017.
The right-wing Israeli government, strongly backed by the US, has since sought to squeeze Abbas.
After a deadly anti-Israeli attack last month, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would withhold $138 million (123 million euros) in Palestinian revenues over the course of a year.
Israel collects around $190 million a month in customs duties levied on goods destined for Palestinian markets that transit through its ports, and then transfers the money to the PA.
Israel said the amount it intended to withhold was equal to what is paid by the PA to the families of prisoners, or prisoners themselves, jailed for attacks on Israelis last year.
Many Palestinians view prisoners and those killed while carrying out attacks as heroes of the fight against Israeli occupation.
Israel says the payments encourage further violence.
Abbas recently accused Netanyahu’s government of causing a “crippling economic crisis in the Palestinian Authority.”
The PA also said in January it would refuse all further US government aid for fear of lawsuits under new US legislation targeting alleged support for “terrorism.”

Finance Minister Shukri Bishara announced earlier this month he had been forced to “adopt an emergency budget that includes restricted austerity measures.”
Government employees paid over 2,000 shekels ($555) will receive only half their salaries until further notice.
Prisoner payments would continue in full, Bishara added.
Nasser Abdel Karim, a Ramallah-based economics professor, told AFP the PA, and the Palestinian economy more generally, remain totally controlled by and reliant on Israel.
The PA undertook similar financial measures in 2012 when Israel withheld taxes over Palestinian efforts to gain international recognition at the United Nations.
Abdel Karim said such crises are “repeated and disappear according to the development of the relationship between the Palestinian Authority and Israel or the countries that support (the PA).”
Israel occupied the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including now annexed east Jerusalem in the Six-Day War of 1967 and Abbas’s government has only limited autonomy in West Bank towns and cities.
“The problem is the lack of cash,” economic journalist Jafar Sadaqa told AFP.
He said that while the PA had faced financial crises before, “this time is different because it comes as a cumulative result of political decisions taken by the United States.”
Abbas appointed longtime ally Mohammad Shtayyeh as prime minister on March 10 to head a new government to oversee the crisis.
Abdel Karim believes the crisis could worsen after an Israeli general election next month “if a more right-wing Israeli government wins.”
Netanyahu’s outgoing government is already regarded as the most right-wing in Israel’s history but on April 9 parties even further to the right have a realistic chance of winning seats in parliament for the first time.
Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts have been at a standstill since 2014, when a drive for a deal by the administration of President Barack Obama collapsed in the face of persistent Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank.