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No time bar on reopening black money cases

The Centre told the Supreme Court on Wednesday that there would be no time bar on income-tax authorities reopening cases of unaccounted money stashed abroad. Attorney-General Mukul Rohtagi gave this assurance when noted jurist Ram Jethmalani’s petition seeking repatriation of tainted wealth of Indians was taken up in the Chief Justice’s court.

The statement was made when Jethmalani’s counsel, Anil Divan, expressed his apprehension that income-tax rules had set a six-year limit for reopening of assessments. Therefore, many of those who had parked illegal money in foreign banks could use this as an escape clause. Besides, more names would come up in the ongoing investigation and those should not invoke the time limit to avoid penal consequences, Divan said. If the government’s assurance is taken forward, cases since 1999 can be reopened.

The attorney-general said the limit could be lifted through an executive order or through legislation, which the Bench, headed by Chief Justice H L Dattu, noted. He expressed his confidence the proceedings would be completed before the next assessment year.

The court was demanding status reports from the special investigative team set up to unearth black money. Jethmalani’s counsel wanted copies of these confidential reports, except the sensitive parts. The court allowed him to approach the SIT for this purpose.

The counsel further complained certain documents and correspondence between foreign banks and the government given to him had several portions blacked out. These parts should be disclosed, as the court specifically ordered it should be handed over as it was. These correspondence indicated certain “manipulations”. Therefore, he wanted the right to inspect the documents in their original form.

When Solicitor-General Ranjit Kumar intervened on behalf of the SIT, the judges and Divan objected to this, as the team was independent from the government. Kumar withdrew from the hearing.

Activist-lawyer Prashant Bhushan, who intervened, submitted that since Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had admitted illegality by more than 200 persons, their names should be disclosed. The court asked him to approach the SIT, which has all the information.

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