Days after it was criticised for backtracking on its election promise to bring back black money stashed abroad, the Modi government on Monday named seven persons and a company facing prosecution for keeping illegal wealth in foreign banks.
The much-awaited list did not include names of any politician, but more disclosures are possible if the government finds evidence of illegality in any of the nearly 800 accounts whose details were handed over to it by French and German authorities.
Those named in a government affidavit are Pradip Burman of the Dabur group, Rajkot-based bullion trader Pankaj Chimanlal Lodhya and directors of Goa-based mining company Timblo Private Limited — Radha Satish Timblo, Chetan S Timblo, Rohan S Timblo, Anna C Timblo and Mallika R Timblo. Timblo Private Limited, a firm identified by Association for Democratic Reforms as a donor to both the BJP and the Congress, was also named.
Dabur said that Pradip Burman’s account was opened when he was a non-resident Indian, Lodhya denied having a foreign bank account, and Radha Timblo said she needed to study the affidavit before reacting.
“The intention of the present government is clear and unambiguous. The government is keen to unearth black money held abroad and for that purpose it will use all diplomatic and legal means and also all investigative agencies to obtain information that can assist in such unearthing,” the Centre said in the affidavit.
Read: BJP calls black money affidavit historic, Cong claims blackmail
The Congress asked the Modi administration to refrain from “political titillation and playing games”, calling for disclosure of names of all those who had illicit money abroad.
Monday’s affidavit was filed by the income tax (I-T) department in response to a public interest petition filed by former law minister Ram Jethmalani in 2009 seeking that the government take action to bring back India’s black money, estimated by some at nearly $500 billion.
Read: Govt trying to protect politicians, businessmen, says Ram Jethmalani
A special bench headed by Chief Justice of India HL Dattu will hear the black money case on Tuesday. The government is seeking that the court modify an earlier order insisting that all names be revealed; its view is that names should be disclosed only after prosecution is launched against the tax evaders.
The affidavit said that the prosecution against Burman began after the government received information against him from French authorities. It was silent on the sources of information on the others.
The government also informed the court that Switzerland had assured its cooperation, including reaching a treaty on automatic exchange of information with India. It said Swiss authorities had agreed to assist India in obtaining confirmation of genuineness of bank documents.
HT had on last Wednesday reported the Centre was likely to tell the apex court names of people against whom strong evidence exists of stashing away black money in Swiss banks.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government is moving fast to repatriate hundreds of billions of dollars in slush funds or black money stashed abroad, as part of a wider clampdown on corruption that he promised during his election campaign.
The government is building pressure particularly on Switzerland, seeking details of Indians who have parked unaccounted for money in the Alpine country's highly secretive banks. It has quickly implemented a Supreme Court directive to set up a high-powered special investigation team, headed by retired judge MB Shah, to look into the issue.
Black money arises mainly from incomes not disclosed to the government usually to avoid taxation, and, sometimes, because of its criminal links. About a third of India's black money transactions are believed to be in real estate, followed by manufacturing and shopping for gold and consumer goods.
According to PTI, the Union government told the apex court that Switzerland had indicated willingness to provide information on black money in cases probed by the income tax department.
Information received from foreign countries will be disclosed in all cases where tax evasion is established, the government said.
Even though the government pointed out that it had no intention to withhold names of people who have stashed black money, it also said such names could not be disclosed unless there was prima facie evidence of wrongdoing.
The Centre also noted that every foreign account held by an Indian may not be illegal.
Earlier, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government had told the Supreme Court that it could not disclose the names of those who have deposited money in banks abroad as this would jeopardise tax agreements with nations providing those names to India.
There were murmurs of protest within the ruling BJP that not disclosing names would hurt the party's image after it had made bringing back black money, a key issue in a general election that it won by a landslide. The Centre's stand also drew a strong response from the Congress, which accused it of hypocrisy.
Turning the tables on the Congress, finance minister Arun Jaitley had recently said the disclosing of names of people holding black money accounts will embarrass the opposition party.
The previous UPA government had submitted the names of 18 persons who had illegally stashed away money in Liechtenstein to the Supreme Court.
It had come under flak after it opposed the Supreme Court’s direction to set-up a special investigation team (SIT) and its review petition against the court’s verdict was dismissed. The SIT was finally set up by the Modi government within days of its taking over at the Centre.
(With inputs from agencies)
Watch:Centre discloses 8 names to SC