New Delhi, Oct 28 :
The Indian government was directed Tuesday by the Supreme Court to furnish in a sealed envelope Wednesday the names of all individuals and entities in its possession who have accounts in overseas banks, legitimate or otherwise.
The directive to this effect came a day after the government gave the court the names of seven individuals and one company, alleging they had funds in bank accounts abroad over which proceedings had been initiated for tax evasion.
The apex court bench headed by Chief Justice H.L. Dattu told Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi that the government needed to just disclose the names in a sealed envelope and the court would decide whether it should be investigated upon and by whom.
“First give us the names. We will get them investigated. Not just one, two, three (names), give us in a sealed cover what you have got from the French, German and Swiss governments,” Chief Justice Dattu said.
When Rohatgi told the court that tax authorities were probing the accounts, the chief justice said: “Why do you want to take the trouble of investigating? Give it to us. We’ll direct the CBI or tax authorities to undertake investigation in a month’s time.”
Rohatgi tried to persist further. “I have the list of 500 names, some of them are sketchy,” he said. But the bench, which included Justice Ranjana Prakash Desai and Justice Madan B. Lokur, did not heed.
Soon after the court’s directive, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said the names as sought by the Supreme Court had already been given to the Special Investigation Team (SIT) appointed by the government at the behest of the apex court.
“Since the government had already given, on June 27, the entire list to the SIT, it has no difficulty in giving it to the court. The entire list would be placed before it by tomorrow morning,” Jaitley told reporters here.
The primary purpose of this exercise is to ascertain who among the individuals and the entities named hold such accounts in contravention of Indian laws and what kind of proceedings can be initiated to prosecute them and get back any ill-gotten money.
Even as the so-called list in entirety is due to be submitted Wednesday, it is unclear if the court will make it public. At the same time, sources said, there were also talks of not one but several lists, some allegedly stolen with little veracity.
India has no official estimates of illegal money stashed away in bank accounts overseas. But the unofficial ones range from $466 billion to $1.4 trillion. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has promised to get back such “black money”.
The Supreme Court’s directive on divulging the names also comes against the backdrop of opposition parties crying foul over the naming of just seven people Monday even as some ruling party members commented that the full list will embarrass some political leaders.
Senior Congress leader Salman Khurshid said cherry-picking names from the list was immoral. “The government should disclose all the names on the list to the court as per law,” said Khurshid, who was the foreign minister in the previous government.
In a similar vein, Communist Party of India leader D. Raja queried as to why the government was reluctant to part with all the names in its possession, adding this amounted to lack of political will in fulfilling election promises.
Coming to the names, official sources said one list purportedly contains the names of around 700 individuals and entities based on information from French authorities. An employee of HSBC Holdings Plc’s Swiss branches had allegedly stolen this data.
Similarly, Germany had in 2010 furnished the names of some Indians with secret accounts in tax haven Liechtenstein’s LGT Bank. These names were part of about 1,400 stolen bank account details from there, the sources said.