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Black Money trail: Cong politicians, biz tycoons in spotlight

The Supreme Court directive to the government on Tuesday to disclose the names of all foreign bank account holders might put the spotlight on some former officebearers of the Congress and a few business tycoons.

Among Congress politicians are the wife and a son of a strongman from Maharashtra, also a former chief minister; a former minister of state (MoS) in the previous United Progressive Alliance government, who is also the wife of a former chief minister; and, a member of Parliament in the 15th Lok Sabha from Uttar Pradesh with links to a large corporate house.

A highly-placed source who has seen the list revealed the names to Business Standard, which tried to get in touch with all the three for a confirmation. The first two denied having any foreign account in their name or in the name of their family members. The third person could not be reached for a comment over the phone and an e-mail query remained unanswered till the time of going to press. In response to a query from Business Standard, the former MoS confirmed receiving a notice from the Income-Tax (I-T) department in this regard in 2011 but denied the existence of a foreign bank account. “In keeping with my reply to the I-T department, I would like to state that I never have had, and do not have any bank account(s) overseas in my name with any foreign bank,” she said.

Besides politicians, a large Mumbai-based business house and its promoters as well as their family members are mentioned in the list of Indians with bank accounts in HSBC Geneva. The chairman of an airline also figures in the list made available to India by the French authorities in 2011.

The source cited above, however, said having names in the list does not make their accounts illegal. The cases are in various stages of investigation and according to international standards, the names can be made public only when charges are framed against those people in a court. Prosecution is launched in cases where the government finds strong evidence of tax evasion and wilful default.

“Besides, the names given in the HSBC list, the government has found many more names from cross reference and has started investigation,” the source added.

On Monday, the government had given to the Supreme Court the names of seven people with bank accounts abroad. Among them was Dabur India’s former director Pradip Burman. Although Burman said he was a non-resident Indian and had paid the taxes, sources alleged the disclosures by him and many others were made after India got the HSBC list and, therefore, cannot be considered a voluntary disclosure.

“HSBC had informed its account holders that India had got hold of a list with details of their Swiss accounts. So, some of them paid taxes but that cannot absolve them of penalty and prosecutions as the tax department already had information about their accounts,” said the source.

An HSBC spokesperson declined to comment on the issue when contacted through phone as well as on email.

The government will provide this list with about 500 names to the Supreme Court on Wednesday morning. According to international tax treaties, India cannot disclose the names till prosecution is launched; the court has asked for the information in a sealed envelope.

Asked whether the names would be made public after submission of the list in the apex court, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said that was the prerogative of the Supreme Court. As there is a confidentiality clause in bilateral tax treaties for sharing of information, he said the government was keen that procedures followed should be such that the reciprocating countries continue to cooperate with India.

As the apex court rejected the objections of the government that the disclosure to the court would make it impossible in future for the government to sign tax treaties with foreign governments, the Centre will now have to take a call on how it would go about signing such agreements.

Indian financial institutions face the risk of sanctions by the US under Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act if India does not sign the pact by December 31. The new anti-tax evasion law in the US also has a confidentiality clause. However, the apex court said it would take care of the problem of confidentiality.

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