NEW DELHI - India's financial crime agency said on Thursday it has blocked 119 bank accounts linked to Vivo's India business that were holding 4.65 billion rupees ($58.76 million), as part of a probe into alleged money laundering by the Chinese smartphone maker.
The Enforcement Directorate said it raided 48 locations of Vivo and its 23 related entities this week, alleging that sale proceeds of Vivo India were transferred out of India to show losses and avoid paying taxes.
Vivo, owned by China's BBK Electronics, did not immediately respond to a request on the bank account block. Earlier this week, Vivo said it was cooperating with authorities and was committed to fully complying with Indian laws.
The directorate said in its statement Vivo's employees, including some Chinese nationals, did not cooperate during the search and "tried to abscond, remove and hide digital devices".
The agency also seized two kilograms of gold bars and some cash during the operation, it said.
News of the raids prompted China's embassy in India to call for a fair business environment for its companies, saying late on Wednesday that India's multiple investigations into Chinese firms were damaging the confidence of foreign entities investing and operating in the country.
In the Vivo investigation, the federal agency alleges the company remitted almost 50% of its total sales of 1.25 trillion rupees ($15.82 billion) to China "in order to disclose huge losses in Indian incorporated companies to avoid payment of taxes in India".
The investigation began in Feb. 2022, the statement added.
India smartphone market leader Xiaomi too has been under investigation since February, with the Enforcement Directorate in April seizing $725 million in the company's India bank accounts, alleging it had made illegal remittances abroad "in the guise of royalty" payments.
Xiaomi denies wrongdoing and an Indian court has temporarily lifted the block following a challenge by the company. The case is ongoing.
Many Chinese firms have struggled to do business in India after political tension surged following a border clash in 2020. India has cited security concerns in banning more than 300 Chinese apps since, and toughened rules on Chinese investment.
Vivo is one of India's biggest smartphone makers, accounting for a 15% market share, according to Counterpoint Research.
Xiaomi has the biggest 24% share, while South Korea's Samsung Electronics has 18%.
(Reporting by Aditya Kalra and Abhirup Roy; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Barbara Lewis)