India tax authorities seize $5 bln bills of exchange from trader

CHENNAI (REUTERS) - Indian tax authorities are investigating a possible financial scam after seizing US$5 billion (S$6.1 billion) worth of bills of exchange issued by Barclays from the home of a trader, an official at the local tax department said on Thursday.

The authorities seized five bills of exchange each valued at $1 billion from the home of T. M. Ramalingam during a Dec. 31 raid, the tax official said.

The bills were not the reason behind the raid, he said.

Ramalingam had applied for a licence to set up an oil refinery in Tamil Nadu with the money, the tax official said.

The bills were issued on Feb. 25, 2011 and were due to mature in February 2015, according to a copy of one of the bills shown to Reuters by the tax official.

"We are in the process of verifying them as there is a possibility of a scam since the value is so high," said the tax official, who declined to be named as he was not authorised to talk to the media.

Chennai-based R. C. Mishra, director general of Income Tax Investigation declined to confirm or deny the raid or the investigation.

The tax authorities have asked Barclays about the impounded bills, the tax official said. A bill of exchange is similar to a banking draft between individuals or institutions.

Tax officials have confiscated Ramalingam's passport and called him for questioning on Friday, the tax official said.

Neither Ramalingam nor officials at Barclays were immediately available to comment.