Fact that payment is used for ‘illegal’ purpose does not attract Expl to s. 37(1)
The assessee exported tea to Iraq under the ‘Oil for Food Program’, as sanctioned by the United Nations. It paid commission of Rs 1.28 crores to one Alia Transportation, a Jordanian company. The Volcker Committee, which was set up to expose the ‘Oil for Food scam’ found that this company was a front company for the Iraqi regime, meant to receive illegal kickbacks, and did not render any services. The AO, acting on the report, held that the commission paid by the assessee was “illegal” and not allowable under the Explanation to s. 37(1). This was reversed by the CIT (A). On appeal by the department to the Tribunal, HELD:
There was no dispute that the assessee had in fact paid Alia. Though the Volker Committee report stated that the amounts paid to Alia were actually kickbacks to Iraqi regime, that fact per se would not attract Explanation to s. 37(1). In order to fall within the Explanation to s. 37(1), the expenditure has to be for “for any purpose which is an offence or which is prohibited by law“. Alia was a Jordanian company and while the transactions between Alia and the Iraqi regime may be contrary to the UN sanctions, the transactions between the assessee and Alia were not hit by the UN sanctions. The Revenue has not pointed out any other specific violation of law. The assessee’s payment accordingly cannot be said to be for a purpose which is an offence or which is prohibited by law. What the recipient of the payment does is not important from this perspective because the assessee has no control over the matter. It is not the case that the assessee knew that the monies would be used for the purposes of kickbacks to the Iraqi regime. The onus of demonstrating that the assessee was aware that the payments were intended for kickbacks is on the AO which has not been discharged. The “purpose” of the expenditure has to be seen. If the payment is for bonafide business purposes, the fact that they end up being used as illegal kickbacks, will not attract Explanation to s. 37(1). The commercial expediency of the payments was not called into question by the AO (TIL Ltd 16 SOT 33 (Kol) referred).