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Thursday, April 26, 2012

SEBI eyes greater fund flows from abroad
Easier norms on anvil for qualified foreign investors
Samie Modak / Mumbai Apr 26, 2012
To improve the framework for qualified foreign investors (QFIs) and facilitate broad-based participation, the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) is working on large-scale changes to the framework notified earlier this year.
It has convened an informal forum with key market participants, such as custodians, qualified depository participants (QDPs), brokers and tax consultants. Representations on an ongoing basis have been made to Sebi and the finance ministry by various entities to iron out issues. Market players have also sought clarity on certain issues related to taxation and qualification of investors.

The market regulator, in January, had issued guidelines for direct entry of QFIs. However, flows have not started to come through this route, which experts say is due to lack of clarity on the subject.

According to sources, QDPs have strongly opposed the norm asking them to file tax returns on behalf of QFIs. They want Sebi to transfer the responsibility to QFIs themselves. By the current rules, QDPs are responsible for deduction of tax at source on profits or dividends or any other income made by QFI.

C R Sasikumar, managing director of SBI-SG Global Securities Services, said, “Sebi is clearing ways and removing bottlenecks to realise QFIs’ full potential and is supporting the QDPs with active discussions in various forums.” “A QDP is just a pass-through, who would overlook the money entering and leaving Indian shores. Deducting tax is a huge responsibility to take for a small fee. It is a risk QDPs don’t want to take,” said Naresh Makhijani, partner, KPMG.
Another major move contemplated is to permit QFIs to place orders directly with a broker and take confirmation from custodians, as allowed in foreign institutional investor trades. The present rules require QFIs to place orders directly with QDPs, who are to process these through the broker. Also, the tax framework could be tweaked to bring it at par with those for non-resident Indians.

Another change discussed in recent meetings is to allow residents of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) nations. At present, to qualify as QFI an individual has to be a resident of a nation, compliant with the Financial Action Task Force rules and a signatory to the International Organisation of Securities Commission’s Multilateral Memorandum of Understanding.

GCC, comprising Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, don’t fulfill this criteria. However, they are part of the Middle East & North Africa Financial Action Task Force. Sources said Sebi might soon make an amendment to allow GCC residents to qualify as QFIs.

“If GCC countries are allowed, it will surely be a right step,” said Sasikumar. There are, he said, a large number of wealthy individuals in the GCC countries. Experts say investments from individuals of the GCC countries are also expected to be more stable, as they generally invest for the long term. This would also be more transparent, as they would be individual investors.