Sony Music India Cleared of Tax Evasion Implied in a Bizarre Letter from Ricky Martin

Courtesy of HBO
Ricky Martin in the trailer for the HBO Documentary "The Latin Explosion: A New America."

“I was coerced and forced to sign this statement on oath," Martin wrote in 1999.

A long-running income tax case against Sony Music India that followed a charity performance by Ricky Martin in 1998 has finally reached its conclusion -- after nearly a decade. The Delhi High Court recognized a letter written by Ricky, who had performed on December 6, 1998 in the Indian capital, in which he states he was “under threat” to implicate Sony Music India for tax evasion, even though the record label did not have any contract with the Latin singer for his live performance or music sales in India.

In the letter addressed to India’s Deputy Commissioner of Income Tax in 1999, Ricky states, “I was coerced and forced to sign this statement on oath and was overwhelmed by the duress exercised by you on me. This statement under oath was extracted by you from me under threats from you that I would not be allowed to leave India until I signed this statement under oath.”

In May, the Delhi High Court ruled on a petition from Sony Music India which requested the Income Tax Department (ITD) drop all investigations against the label. A bench of judges added that “sufficient time” had passed since the counter-claim was filed by Sony Music India in February 1999, and the ITD had “nothing... on record” to prove there was a contract between Martin and Sony Music India. A bench of judges added: “Nothing has been placed on record in these 17 years by the ITD to inform the Court of the consequent result of said investigation. […] In the circumstances, the court quashes the impugned summons, notices and letters and orders… it is made clear that no further coercive steps shall be taken by the ITD against the petitioner.”

Sony Music India, for their part, said in a statement that they were "pleased with the ruling and have strong and continued faith in the Indian judicial system."

Ricky’s show was organized by one of India’s leading event management companies, DNA Networks. Riding high on the success of his 1998 Grammy-winning album Vuelve (his first top forty album on the Billboard 200) and songs like the Soccer World Cup Anthem “La copa de la Vida”, Martin made his Indian debut in Mumbai in July that year.

With both shows, Martin was subject to Indian tax laws, a regulation that remains unchanged, despite petitions made to the government for amendments. The singer wasn’t allowed to leave the country without clearing his tax dues, further complicated by the letter, written to implicate Sony Music India. An unnamed source who worked on the Delhi show told the Times of India in 2007: “It is virtually impossible to calculate how much the income was for performing in Delhi. You can't calculate the income since the revenue from gate sales goes to the organizer and the sponsorship amount goes to another company."