The Supreme Court on Tuesday directed the government to hand over in a sealed cover on Wednesday the names of all those who had allegedly stashed unaccounted money abroad. This came a day after the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government disclosed the names of seven persons and an entity in this regard.
The court slammed the government for its reluctance over the issue. “Unless we monitor, nothing will happen,” a bench headed by Chief Justice H L Dattu said. When Attorney General Mukul Rohtagi said a special investigation team (SIT) was probing the accounts, ahead of prosecution, the judges remarked: “It will never happen in our lifetime”.
The court asked the government to produce the lists at 10.30 am on Wednesday. “Not one, two or three, but the entire list,” the judges insisted. “You are not going to protect anybody, and we will examine the information; why this protective umbrella?” they asked.
They added after examining information received by the government from other countries, the court would decide whether and which matter should be examined by the Central Bureau of Investigation, the income tax authorities or any other agency.
The chief justice told the Centre not to decide on any probe by itself. “You do not do anything. Just pass information of account holders to us and we will pass an order for further probe,” the bench said.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said the government would hand over the entire list to the court on Wednesday morning, as it had nothing to hide and had, on June 27, given all the names to the SIT set up by the government.
“The government is also keen that procedures followed should be such that the reciprocating countries continue to cooperate with us,” Jaitley said.
The bench rejected the government’s argument that disclosure to the court would make it impossible for the government to sign tax treaties with foreign governments. “Then, the court must also take the responsibility of getting information in the future,” Rohtagi said. “These are government-to-government treaties which include confidentiality clauses.”
“We will take care of the problem of confidentiality when it comes to that,” the judges responded.
Tax treaties prohibit the government from disclosing names in public unless they are of those being prosecuted. When asked whether the names would be made public, Jaitley replied, “Once we have given the list to the court, it is up to the court to take a call on this issue.”
In an affidavit provided on Monday, the government had asked the court to clarify an earlier order directing it to reveal the names of foreign bank account holders against whom no evidence was found on stashing unaccounted money abroad. The government had said this would make it difficult to enter into tax agreements with other countries.
“We are not going to change even a word of it (the earlier order),” the chief justice said on Tuesday.
On Monday, the government had revealed the names of Goa-headquartered mining company Timblo Pvt Ltd and five of its directors, besides Dabur group promoter Pradip Burman and Rajkot-based bullion trader Pankaj Chimanlal Lodhya, as having allegedly stashed money abroad.
At the end of a 30-minute hearing on Tuesday, the attorney general said the government had received 500 names of account holders from countries such as Germany. In Monday’s affidavit, the government had said Burman’s name was provided by France, while the other names were revealed by other countries.
The “selective” revelation of names was ridiculed by the political opponents of the current regime on Monday.
The black money case pertains to a list of Indians having accounts in the LGT Bank in Liechtenstein and another list of those with accounts in HSBC’s Geneva branch.
The government has already provided the names of 18 trusts in connection with the accounts maintained with LGT Bank. Prosecution has been launched into all these cases, except one in which the taxpayer has died. The prosecution in these cases was based on information received from Germany. The HSBC list was stolen by an employee of the bank in 2008 and handed over to the French government, which decided to share the details with India.