The Indian financial enforcement agency Enforcement Directorate (ED) has arrested four executives involved in the smartphone industry, including a Chinese citizen working at Vivo India, on charges related to illegal remittances, Reuters reported on Tuesday.
Why it matters: Since the border conflict between China and India in June 2020, Indian authorities have increasingly targeted Chinese companies, particularly smartphone manufacturers. The recent arrests, coupled with previous actions such as surprise raids and freezing of funds, indicate a gradual escalation of restrictions on Chinese businesses in India.
Details: Vivo responded to the arrests by expressing deep concern and stating that it will take all available legal measures to address the matter, according to the report. The company said in a statement on Tuesday that it firmly abides by the law at all times.
- Earlier on the same day, two sources told Reuters that four employees from Vivo had been arrested. However, during a court hearing, it was revealed that only one Vivo employee, identified as Guanwen Kuang, a Chinese national, had been arrested. Additional information regarding the investigation remains unclear. The ED’s counsel, Manish Jain, requested a ten-day custody period for the arrested individuals, but the judge granted only three days.
- On Wednesday, the foreign ministry of China stated that it was closely monitoring the alleged money laundering case involving Vivo in India, Reuters reported. The ministry also expressed China’s hope for India to provide a fair, transparent, and unbiased business environment for Chinese companies.
- On July 5, 2022, the Indian ED announced in a statement that it had conducted surprise inspections at Vivo India, covering 23 affiliated companies and 48 business locations. During the search operation, employees of Vivo India, including some Chinese citizens, did not cooperate with the search procedure and attempted to remove the digital devices found by the search team, according to the ED.
- In the statement, the ED mentioned a company related to Vivo India called GPICPL (Grand Prospects International Communication Pvt. Ltd.), which was registered and established in India in 2014 by three Chinese citizens named Zhengshen Ou, Bin Lou, and Zhang Jie. The ED accuses the shareholders of GPICPL of using forged identification documents and addresses during the establishment of the company. After its establishment, Bin Lou registered approximately 18 companies across various states in India, it is claimed.
- GPICPL allegedly transferred a significant amount of funds to Vivo India, according to ED. Vivo India then allegedly transferred approximately 50% of its local sales revenue ($7.87 billion) to overseas destinations, primarily mainland China. The ED states that these transfers were made to create substantial losses for the registered company of Vivo India, in order to avoid taxation in India.
- The ED accuses Vivo of violating India’s Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA). As a result, the authority has frozen 119 bank accounts belonging to Vivo in India, with a total value of approximately RMB 390 million ($53 million).
- On July 13, 2022, the Delhi High Court in India allowed the unfreezing of Vivo’s bank accounts, provided that Vivo provided a guarantee of RMB 800 million ($110 million) to the banks, according to Icsmart. The court also instructed Vivo to maintain a balance of 2.5 billion rupees ($30 million) in the accounts.
Context: In July 2023, the Indian government requested Chinese mobile phone manufacturers to induct Indian equity partners in their local operations. The companies, including Xiaomi, Oppo, and Vivo, have also been asked to appoint Indian executives in key roles such as chief executive officer, chief operating officer, chief financial officer, and chief technical officer.
- In July 2023, the Indian Ministry of Finance told the Indian parliament that major Chinese smartphone manufacturers, such as Xiaomi, Vivo, and Oppo, had evaded tariffs and illegally transferred at least 80 billion rupees ($980 million) out of India.