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Black money: Tighter noose to curb laundering by banks, financial institutions

Steps to stop black money circulation in real estate

BS Reporter  |  New Delhi 

With unaccounted ‘black’ money taking centre-stage in political discussion, the on Saturday announced two laws to prosecute those having money illegally abroad and doing benami transactions in India.

One of these laws will tighten the noose on banks, financial institutions and individuals abetting a person to hide foreign accounts. Besides, two amendments will be made in the Income Tax Act to curb circulation of black money in real estate. No immunity scheme is proposed..

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Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said he proposed to introduce a comprehensive Bill on black money in the current session of Parliament. It will specifically deal with money stashed abroad.

Recently, HSBC India had come under the scanner of investigative agencies for allegedly helping clients launder money.

The measure proposed in the will provide for prosecution and rigorous imprisonment up to 10 years for those concealing income and assets, and evading tax on foreign assets. These offences will be non-compoundable and the offenders will not be permitted to approach the Settlement Commission.

Partner with Deloitte India Rajesh Gandhi said the proposed Bill will have harsher provisions covering those having undisclosed income abroad; some of the provisions exist in the Income Tax Act.

Besides, the penalty for such concealment of income and assets will be levied at 300 per cent of tax.

The proposed law will also provide for prosecution of those not filing returns on, or filing returns with inadequate disclosure of foreign assets. They will be liable for up to seven years’ rigorous imprisonment.

Income from undisclosed foreign assets will be taxed at the maximum margin rate of 30 per cent and will have a surcharge. No exemptions or deductions would be allowed.

The owner or beneficiary of foreign assets will have to mandatorily file returns, even if there is no taxable income. Those abetting offenders — whether individuals, entities, banks or financial institutions — will be liable for prosecution and a penalty.

  • Probe in the HSBC-Geneva cases, involving 628 entities, recently gathered pace. Many of these are getting time-barred by the end of this financial year. This means these cannot be acted against after the said time period
  • The special investigation team on black money has widened its probe into these cases after revelations in this regard were made recently by ICIJ, a global collective of journalists
  • According to the report, 1,195 Indians, nearly double the previous list of 628 shared by the French government with India, figure in the HSBC list, with a total balance of Rs 25,420 crore
  • Many of the names have been in the public domain but there are additions, including those of corporate leaders, politicians and NRIs
  • Jaitley says veracity of the new names of Indians with Swiss bank accounts will be checked
  • There is no official estimate of black money stashed abroad. Global Financial Integrity report says India lost $439.59 billion to illicit outflows from 2003 to 2012. India ranks third in the world in illicit outflows at $94.76 billion in 2012, according to the report

An assessee will have to mandatorily mention the date of opening of foreign accounts in an income tax return.

The offence of concealment of income or tax evasion in relation to foreign assets will be made a predicate offence — meaning a crime that provides resources for other criminal acts such as money laundering. As such, these will be taken as offences under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA). This will enable enforcement agencies to attach and confiscate unaccounted assets held abroad and prosecute persons involved in laundering of black money.

PMLA will be further amended to enable attachment and confiscation of equivalent assets in India when the assets located abroad cannot be forfeited.

Besides, the Foreign Exchange Management Act (Fema), will be amended to enable action against the holder of foreign exchange, foreign security or any immovable property outside India in contravention of the law.

Tax partner at KPMG in India Vikas Vasal said, “Stringent penal provisions, including penalty and imprisonment, have been provided for concealment of income and assets. Simultaneous changes proposed in the other statutes, like Fema, clearly show the tough stand being adopted by the government to deal with such cases.”

On circulation of black money in the domestic economy, the minister announced a new and comprehensive Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Bill would be introduced in the current session of Parliament. This law will enable confiscation of benami property and provide for prosecution, blocking a major avenue for generation and holding of black money in the form of benami property, especially in real estate.

There is a Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Act, 1988. Jaitley said at a later interview that the law had become defunct, necessitating new legislation.

Two provisions of the Income Tax Act will be amended to counter payments for immovable property in excess of Rs 20,000 in cash.

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First Published: Sun, March 01 2015. 00:42 IST