The Supreme Court on Tuesday came down heavily on the government for not implementing its three-year-old direction to set up a special investigating team (SIT) to probe all cases of black money and to disclose information the Centre had got from Germany about those who have stashed money in banks in Liechtenstein — a landlocked country in central Europe bordering Switzerland and Austria.
“It is total contempt of our directions,” a bench headed by justice HL Dattu said, accusing the government of using the shield of a review petition to put the court’s July 4, 2011 directions — on a PIL by senior advocate Ram Jethmalani — in cold storage. The court had on March 26 rejected the Centre’s plea to recall the direction.
The German government had in March 2010 provided names of 50 individuals. Based on the list, notices were sent for tax evasion, highly-placed sources in the finance ministry said. However, the exact amount of illegal money in the accounts of German banks could not be ascertained immediately. The sources also indicated information about these persons was being collected and other suitable action could follow.
The bench disapproved of solicitor general Mohan Parasaran’s contention that the court’s directions were inter-connected and disclosure of the names received from Germany was to be done only after the SIT investigation. “We have to take the statement of the SG with a pinch of salt. Our order is crystal clear. We directed you to give all information to the petitioner forthwith. But you have not complied for the last three years,” it said.
The court asked Parasaran to take instructions in this regard from the revenue secretary and revert on April 29.
Furthermore, it asked Jethmalani and Parasaran to suggest a common name for appointment as chairman of the SIT — but not before expressing surprise that the Centre had taken three years to inform it about former Law Commission chairperson Justice BP Jeevan Reddy’s letters expressing inability to head the probe team. The former SC judge had written his first letter on August 15, 2011 and then a second on April 18, 2014.
Senior BJP leader LK Advani has been raising the issue of black money since the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. Later, yoga guru Ramdev, who launched a campaign on the issue, accused the UPA government of shielding those who stashed away India’s money abroad.
In February 2012, the then CBI director AP Singh had said, “It is estimated that around $500 billion of illegal money belonging to Indians is deposited in tax havens abroad. The largest depositors in Swiss Banks are also reported to be Indians.” He had later clarified that the $500 billion was an estimate based on a statement made to the Supreme Court in July 2011.