The Supreme Court today expressed displeasure over the government's reluctance in coming forward with full information on the black money stashed by Indians in foreign banks, saying keeping national wealth abroad amounted to "plunder" of the country.
"It is a pure and simple theft of the national money. We are talking about mind-boggling crime. We are not on the niceties of various treaties," remarked a bench comprising justices B Sudershan Reddy and S S Nijjar, while hearing a petition by former Law Minister Ram Jethmalani and others for retrieving Indian black money stashed in foreign banks.
The remark by the bench came when Solicitor general Gopal Subramanium was explaining various steps taken by the government under the Double Taxation Avoidance Act.
The court was unhappy that the government filed an affidavit restricting information relating to the money deposited by 26 persons in Liechtenstein Bank in Germany.
"This is all the information you have or you have something more?" the bench asked.
"We are talking about the huge money. That is the plunder of nation," the bench remarked.
The bench also expressed anguish over the fact that the affidavit filed in a sealed cover and referring to 26 names, had been signed by a mere director-level officer and said it should have been signed by the finance secretary himself.
It reflects the "seriousness" of the government, the bench remarked sarcastically.
"We thought one person who must have been authorised to file the affidavit should have been the finance secretary," said the bench.
The solicitor general, however, tried to pacify the bench saying that it is an established procedure that whenever an affidavit is filed, it is filed with the concurrence at the highest level.
Subramium also accepted that the figure about the black money stashed in foreign banks is mind-boggling, but expressed limitation in sharing all informations about it saying that the authorities have to go on the basis of mutual agreement with various countries where the money is stashed in banks.
The bench also questioned the government for limiting the information provided by it only to the Liechtenstein Bank.
"Why are you limiting the matter to the Liechtenstein Bank only," the bench asked, when the solicitor general said he was making submissions on the averment made in the writ petition.
"What stops or precludes this court from expanding the scope of this writ petition in public interest," the bench asked.
"All we want is that you give all information about the money deposited in the foreign banks by Indians," it said, making it clear that the question of avoiding tax does not arise here.
Senior advocate Anil Divan, appearing for the petitioner, said the government was concealing information on the issue and it was totally wrong.
The plea of DTAA has been chosen with the malafide to conceal information from public, he said, adding that the issue of tax avoidance has no relevance as the source of money could be of terror, narcotics or even arms dealing.
The apex court had expressed displeasure even last week over the government's reluctance in disclosing the names of Indian having black money stashed in foreign banks.
"What is the difficulty in disclosing the information," the bench had asked on January 14, when Subramanium told the bench that the government has got the details but did not want to reveal it.
The court's remarks came after the government contended that it has got the information from the German government pertaining to the bank accounts of Indian citizens in Liechtenstein Bank there.