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India in touch with whistleblower to get entire names of black money holders

Say follow-up on, with whistle-blower asked for details; Jaitley says other govts also spoken to for needed proof, with Berne pointing to legal hurdles

BS Reporter  |  New Delhi 

An expanded list, to an earlier disclosure of 2011, coming to the fore of Indians having allegedly undisclosed accounts in HSBC, Switzerland, the government on Monday said it was in touch with the whistle-blower who had leaked these and was verifying the veracity.

However, the Swiss government said even the expanded list was derived from stolen data (as was the earlier one). An assertion which might, under their law, make it difficult for India to seek its cooperation without additional evidence.

“Some new names have been revealed whose veracity would be checked by the authorities,” Finance Minister Arun Jaitley told reporters. The government said information in a little more than 600 cases had been already sought from foreign jurisdictions.

Jaitley was reacting to a report in The Indian Express which stated a new list of account-holders was close to 1,200, almost double the names that figured on the list shared in 2011 by the French government.

Following the revelations, the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team (SIT) discussed the fresh list on Monday and said there seemed at least 100 new names.

“We will consider all new cases where there is evidence of black money... We will complete probe in all cases which are getting time-barred by March 31,” SIT vice-chairman Arijit Pasayat told reporters here.

Additionally, Enforcement Directorate and Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) have been asked to gather information on the new list and inform SIT at the earliest, Pasayat said, adding with this development, the scope of their probe had widened.

The income tax department is already in touch with the whistle-blower who brought out the names of persons holding undisclosed bank accounts in the said bank, stated CBDT. However, so far the person hasn’t responded to the requests from Indian authorities. “He has been requested to share information available with him in regard to undisclosed bank accounts of Indians in HSBC, Switzerland, and other destinations. His response is awaited,” it said.

However, “the published information is based on the known list with stolen data of the years 2007 and earlier”, a Swiss government spokesperson told PTI from Berne.

Switzerland, however, also says the country is “strongly committed” to the fight against unaccounted money, following a change in its earlier policy on confidentiality in this regard.

Jaitley also noted all the accounts might not be illegal, as some holders had disclosed their overseas business dealings to tax authorities, while some others on the list (the first list of 628 Indians) were non-residents here (NRIs). Names, he added, were immaterial if not backed by evidence.

“Evidence in addition to stolen data, so that a water-tight case can be framed. Just names do not ensure proper proceedings in court. It should be backed by solid evidence,” he said.

Meanwhile, HSBC admitted to lapses in the past on its part. “We acknowledge that the compliance culture and standards of due-diligence in HSBC’s Swiss private bank, as well as the industry in general, were significantly lower than they are today,” the bank said in London.

The government also said it had established contacts with counterparts in other nations which could help in tackling the issue. “Based upon credible information of undisclosed foreign bank accounts, fresh references for obtaining further information in more than 600 cases have been made to foreign jurisdictions, under available treaties/agreements. The same are being pursued,” went an official statement.

Up to December 31, 2014, the tax department had completed assessments in 128 cases, involving a little more than 350 assessments in which they have initiated proceedings on concealment. In the remaining cases, assessment proceedings are at an advanced stage. The net amount of peak balance for the 428 cases of black money was about Rs 4,500 crore.

Undisclosed income of about Rs 3,150 crore has been brought to tax on account of deposits made in unreported foreign bank accounts. “About 60 prosecutions have so far been launched for willful attempt to evade taxes and failure to furnish accounts and documents, etc,” the government stated.

Jaitley also said he’d met top Swiss authorities, including their finance minister, in Davos last month.

ON THE BLACK MONEY TRAIL

  • Indian authorities launch penalty concealment proceedings in 128 cases
  • India had received information in 628 cases from French authorities
  • 428 cases of residents were found actionable with peak balance of Rs 4,500 cr
  • Undisclosed income of Rs 3,150 cr was brought to tax on account of deposits made in unreported foreign bank accounts
  • Whistle-blower has been requested to share information about undisclosed bank accounts of Indians in HSBC, Switzerland, and other destinations

First Published: Tue, February 10 2015. 00:23 IST
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