The government on Saturday submitted an affidavit in the Supreme Court on the issue of black money stashed in foreign banks stating it has received information about Indian account holders in a German Bank but did not reveal the names on grounds of “confidentiality“.
The Ministry of Finance in a 29-page affidavit said German government made the available the information after persistent follow up since February 2008 “on condition of strict confidentiality of contents under the Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement DTAA.”
It said the German government provided the information on March 18 this year about the Indian account holders in the LGT Bank, Liechtenstein.
On the issue of deposits in banks in Switzerland, the affidavit said Government has acted with utmost expedition.
The affidavit said that in the past, Swiss authority has consistently refused to share bank information regarding Indian residents but developments have taken place since Swiss confederation has intended to adopt the OECD Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development standards and enter into negotiations for exchange of information on bank details.
The affidavit was filed in Supreme Court on the action taken by the government on the issue of black money stashed in foreign banks. This was in response to a PIL filed by eminent jurist Ram Jethmalani and five others who have been seeking a direction for the government to take action to bring back money to the tune of Rs 70 lakh crore stashed in foreign banks.
When the petition was mentioned on April 22 before a Bench headed by Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan, Additional Solicitor General Gopal Subramanium had questioned the timing of raising the issue when the elections were underway.
Though the apex court had not issued notice, it had posted the matter for hearing on May 4 after the Additional Solicitor General had promised to file the affidavit within 48 hours.
He had said that action was already taken on the issue when it came to light in February 2008 and “the situation is totally under control”.
Besides Jethmalani, five others including former Punjab DGP K P S Gill and former Secretary General of Lok Sabha Subhash Kashyap, who are petitioners, have alleged that government was not taking action on the issue.
However, the Additional Solicitor General had refuted the allegation saying that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in his opening speech at the recent G-20 summit in London, had said that “there should be an absolute transparency and banking secrecy should be over”.
The ASG had said that the Ministry of Finance had written to the German authorities in February and June 2008 when the issue appeared in the media seeking information about Indian account holders in LGP Bank there.
The PIL assumes importance as BJP leader L K Advani, besides Left parties and others have been pressing the government to approach the foreign banks for bringing back the black money.
During the last hearing, the petitioners had said all political parties are responsible for the present state of affairs and though the issue came to light in February 2008, government has not taken a step so far to the extent that not a single account has been frozen.
They had said the situation was alarming as the Swiss Bank authorities have said that Indians tops the list of depositors with around Rs 1.5 trillion deposited with it.
The petition sought a direction to the Centre to take up with the foreign banks, particularly the UBS Bank, Switzerland, the issue of freezing of accounts of Indian businessmen, politicians and other influential persons illegally holding their assets in such financial institutions.
The six petitioners, whom their counsel Anil Divan described as “super senior” citizens, have submitted that if the Rs 70 lakh crore, purportedly stashed in foreign banks, are retrieved it would substantially remove poverty in the country and promote its development.
Quoting certain journals and media reports, the petition said the Rs 70 lakh crore, siphoned off from the country between 2002 and 2006, has been stashed in foreign banks. It claimed the government has knowledge of the matter but no action has been taken against the persons involved.
The petition also cited the purported statement made by Finance Minister P Chidambaram acknowledging the stashing away of such illegal money in foreign banks by influential Indians.
The petition cited the alleged instance of the Enforcement Directorate detecting deposits made of around 8.04 billion dollars with the UBS Bank in Zurich by one Hasan Ali Khan in Pune during a raid in January 2007.
The Income Tax Department had also served a demand notice to the tune of Rs 20,580 crore on Khan, besides for Rs 40,000 crore from Kashinath Tapuria and his wife Chandrika Tapuria of Kolkota, who had allegedly connived with Khan, it was claimed in the petition.
According to the petition, unregistered Foreign Investment Institutions FIIs had entered the stock market through Participatory Notes and as such their credentials were not known, thus exposing the country to grave threat.
The Ministry of Finance, Reserve Bank of India, Securities Exchange Board of India, Directorate of Enforcement and Central Board of Direct Taxes were made respondents in the petition.