Income tax sleuths searched the houses and offices of top Malayalam film stars Mohanlal and Mammootty in various south Indian cities on Friday.

The investigation wing of the I-T department searched properties owned by the two in Kochi, Thiruvananthapuram, Ernakulam, Bangalore and Chennai from early in the morning and found assets and documents that indicated possession of unaccounted income and wealth, sources said. Searches are going on at a dozen properties of Mr. Mohanlal and half a dozen of Mr. Mammootty.

Tax officials, escorted by armed policemen, searched Mr. Mohanlal's house at Poojappura and his film studio site at an industrial park close to Thiruvananthapuram city.

“Acting fees understated”

The two super stars, the sources said, had business interests other than films, and it seemed that incomes from these avenues had not been properly accounted for. Again, the two had apparently understated their acting fees by mentioning only a fraction of their actual earnings in their tax returns. Parts of their income — for instance, overseas film rights — had gone into the accounts of spouses or relatives. The actors also seemed to have invested in land.

I-T officials also searched the premises of business partners of the two. Some of these partners are said to have held benami properties on behalf of the stars. Dozens of investigation officers took part in the coordinated effort that started simultaneously at 6 a.m. The officials had been told of the destinations only at 4 a.m.

Six officers conducted a four-hour-long search at Mr. Mohanlal's bungalow at Riching Colony, Lovedale in Udhagamandalam, from noon till evening.

About 30 I-T officials carried out simultaneous searches on five premises of Mr. Mammootty and Mr. Mohanlal in Chennai, leading to seizure of some documents and Rs.15 lakh in cash.

According to officials, the searches were carried out based on requests from their Kerala counterparts as per Section 132 of the Income Tax Act.

“In Chennai, the search started at around 6 a.m. and it is still going on in some places. Mr. Mammootty's premises in R.A. Puram and Egmore and that of Mr. Mohanlal in T. Nagar, Egmore and Valasaravakkam were searched. In most of the places, their office and residence were next to each other. The searches in most of the places are over and we have sent the documents to Kochi,” said an I-T official.

Currently, Mr. Mammootty is in Chennai and Mr. Mohanlal is shooting on location in Ramanathapuram district. The officials have obtained preliminary response from the actors.

Questioned on location

Mr. Mohanlal was questioned by I-T sleuths at Valinokkam, about 50 km from Ramanathapuram on the East Coast Road. He has been camping at Erwadi along with a film group for the shooting of Malyalam film “Thiralayam.” He was in a shoot when the officials reached the spot, once famous as a ship-breaking unit.

After identifying themselves, the officials sought the cooperation of the actor. Mr. Mohanlal, who was in full make-up for a song with actress Jayapradha, immediately obliged and sat with them in a Sports Utility Vehicle. A group of 8 officials attached to the Madurai Income-Tax office carried out the inquiry. The questioning, which commenced around 1 p.m., continued till around 3.30 p.m.

In between shots

Though the film shoot was disrupted, it was not called off despite the presence of the officials. In between Mr. Mohanlal acted in a few shots and came to the vehicle to answer questions. Later, he went to the lodge at Erwadi, where the officials followed him. Besides searching the room, they continued the questioning till 6.30 p.m. Though the officials were tight-lipped on the inquiry, it was learnt that they questioned the actor based on documents found during the simultaneous searches.

Questions were raised on investments, incomes and mismatch with tax returns filed. A large number of people gathered in front of the lodge at Erwadi on hearing the news that the superstar was being questioned.

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