ByteDance cries foul over India bank account freeze
China’s ByteDance has told an Indian court that a government freeze on its bank accounts in a probe of possible tax evasion amounts to harassment and was done illegally, according to a filing.
ByteDance in January reduced its Indian workforce after New Delhi maintained a ban on its popular video app TikTok, imposed last year. China has repeatedly criticized India over that ban and those of other Chinese apps.
An Indian tax intelligence unit in mid-March ordered HSBC and Citibank in Mumbai to freeze bank accounts of ByteDance India as it probed some of the unit’s financial dealings. ByteDance has challenged the freeze on the four accounts in a Mumbai court.
None of ByteDance India’s employees have been paid their March salaries due to the account freeze, said two people familiar with the matter. The company told the court it has a workforce of 1,335, including outsourced personnel.
In the 209-page court filing lodged on March 25, ByteDance told the High Court in Mumbai the authorities acted against the company without any material evidence and gave no prior notice, as required by Indian law, before such “drastic action.”
Blocking accounts “during the process of investigation amounts (to) applying undue coercion,” ByteDance argued. It is “intended, improperly, to harass the petitioner.”
India’s Directorate General of Goods & Services Tax Intelligence, and the finance ministry which oversees it, did not immediately respond to requests for comment over the weekend.
The details of the tax investigation have not previously been reported. The tax agency told ByteDance last year it had reasons to believe the company suppressed certain transactions and claimed excessive tax credits, the filing shows.
ByteDance declined to comment on its court filing but said it disagrees with the decision of the tax authority. HSBC declined to comment, while Citibank did not respond.
The court declined to grant ByteDance immediate relief in a brief hearing last Wednesday. The next hearing is scheduled for tomorrow.
ByteDance told the court its India workforce includes 800 people working in its “trust and safety” team that supports activities like content moderation overseas.
The company has “robust business plans in India and is not contemplating winding up,” it said, urging the court to lift the freeze on the accounts.
The tax agency started investigating the company in July.