Black money: NDA moves to make names public, top politicians said to be on list

NEW DELHI (TIP): The NDA government has started filing charges against individuals having illicit accounts in overseas banks, clearing the way for disclosure of names of those who have stashed black money abroad, and triggering speculation that some prominent politicians may figure on the much-awaited list. Sources said that prosecution has been initiated against one foreign account holder, and will soon be extended to another 15-20 who are on the ‘HSBC Geneva list’.

Swiss authorities have confirmed the identities of the persons on the list. Launch of prosecution in these cases will meet the condition laid down by Swiss authorities that names of account holders can only be shared with courts after charges are framed. Prosecution proceedings by the income tax department triggered speculation about the identity of the foreign account holders, with political circles discussing names of a former Union minister and the son of another, a former MP with family links to a leading business house, and the scion of a political dynasty which is currently passing through a lean patch.

Significantly, finance minister Arun Jaitley did not deny the possibility of a former UPA minister being on the list. “I am neither confirming, nor denying. I am only smiling,” he said, attracting a hostile response from Congress. When pressed, Jaitley said, “If my opponent’s name is there, I will be very enthusiastic in declaring it.” Sources also said a fresh list of 19 persons having illegal accounts with Liechtenstein Bank will be shared with Supreme Court after Diwali.

This will be followed by another 20-odd names from the HSBC list. Launch of prosecution come amid resumed fight between BJP and Congress over black money. Congress latched on to the government’s stand in SC last week that it could not disclose the names of foreign account holders against whom charges were not framed to say that the Modi government had done a U-turn on the issue. BJP hit back, with Jaitley saying they were hamstrung by treaties signed by the UPA which forbade the government from disclosing names of those not facing charges. On October 21, Jaitley scaled up the retaliatory strike by saying that Congress would be embarrassed when the names came out.

The two sides traded fire again on October 22 with Jaitley saying, “In case charges are proved against some politician and he or she happens to be a member of a political party, the names will be made public.” It is learnt that the list shared by France of Indians having accounts in HSBC Bank, Geneva featured a few Congressmen and their scions with huge deposits at the time the list was leaked. Interestingly, a former UPA-2 minister, who was sent a notice to appear for questioning to explain his deposits, is believed to also have bank accounts in the UAE and later claimed that he had closed his Swiss accounts long ago.

The government has so far recovered Rs 200 crore by way of tax and penalty from the names shared by Germany and France that included account holders in LGT Bank in Liechtenstein and HSBC Bank, Geneva. The total assessed income in the two cases has gone over Rs 600 crore so far. While prosecution is being launched against many account holders in the HSBC case, the income tax department had filed cases against 18 persons in the LGT Bank case.

After the French government shared the HSBC Bank list having names of 700 Indians in 2011, the finance ministry had asked the Directorate of Criminal Investigation (DCI) to probe the case. DCI had questioned some top industrialists over deposits estimated to be upwards of Rs 800 crore. A few leading politicians, including the son of a former minister in UPA-2 and the son of an influential Maharashtra minister who faced a humiliating defeat in the recentlyconcluded assembly polls, were put on notice after their names figured on the list. The total tax and penalty in the LGT Bank case was estimated to go up to Rs 40- 45 crore, almost equivalent to the amount that had been spirited away by 19 Indians whose income has now been reassessed to Rs 40 crore, sources said.

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