Amid opposition attack of being soft on money laundering, the Indian government Monday furnished the names of two individuals, including a promoter of the Dabur consumer goods company, and a mining company and its five directors to the Supreme Court, alleging they had funds in bank accounts abroad over which proceedings had been initiated for tax evasion.
Those named are prominent industrialist and scion of the Dabur Group Pradeep Burman, Rajkot-based bullion trader and realtor Pankaj Chimanlal Lodhiya and Goa-based mining firm Timblo Pvt Ltd and its five directors. The information on Burman had been secured from the French, while on others the sources were “other countries”, the apex court was told.
Burman, Lodhiya and one of the directors of Timblo all reacted differently to the alleged revelation, but all claimed innocence.
The names were filed in an affidavit, after a Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice H.L. Dattu permitted such filing soon after Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi, representing the Prime Minister Narendra Modi government, raised the matter in the morning.
The government in its affidavit said it has no intention to hold back any information or the names it has received from foreign governments of Indian citizens holding undeclared accounts in foreign banks containing income on which no taxes were paid to the national exchequer. As per some reports, one list has as many as 780 names.
“The intention of the present government is clear and unambiguous. The government is keen to unearth the 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.”
At the same time, the government also sought to make it clear that every foreign account held by an Indian overseas may not be illegal, even as all names cannot be disclosed till such time it has evidence of wrongdoing.
The affidavit also said one of the first tasks after the Prime Minister Narendra Modi government took charge was to set up the Special Investigation Team (SIT) on black money in tax havens abroad, as had been asked for by the apex court.
The government application sought the modification of the court’s earlier order directing it to disclose all the names of the Indian citizens that it had received from German tax authorities in March 2009 who were holding accounts in LGT Bank in Liechtenstein.
From among those named, Dabur was the first to react for Pradeep Burman. “We wish to state that this account was opened when he (Pradip) was an NRI, and was legally allowed to open this account,” a Dabur spokesperson said in a statement.
Pankaj Lodhiya denied holding any Swiss bank accounts and claimed that he had disclosed whatever he had to say to the Income Tax authorities. He also said he was shocked to see his name coming in the government list.
Reacting for her company, Goan mining magnate Radha S. Timblo said she needed to study the government’s affidavit to the apex court first before commenting, adding she will give her reaction to the apex court. She was named along with her firm’s Chetan S. Timblo, Rohan S. Timblo, Anna C. Timblo and Mallika R. Timblo.
The government had told the Supreme Court earlier that it cannot yet reveal the names of all Indians with alleged illegal bank accounts abroad, based on the information it had received information from foreign governments.
This, it had said, was mainly on account of the fact that it cannot afford to break the various treaties with foreign countries on double taxation, and that prosecution proceedings, with proper evidence in hand, had to be initiated first.
“Any premature and out of court disclosure of the names of account holders would not only vitiate the investigations, but will enable such account holders to get away with their offences,” Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had said.
“The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government’s approach on black money is doggedly persistent – not adventurist,” added Jaitley, a lawyer by profession and also the country’s defence minister.
Even as the government officially sought to keep the mood quiet, BJP party spokespersons went on an overdrive with one of them calling it a historic day in the illegal money case.
There was also some political posturing.
“The government has to answer a lot of questions. There is a reluctance on its part to give out all the names. This shows the government lacks the political will and determination to fulfil its election promises,” Communist Party of India (CPI) National Secretary D. Raja said.
He said this was crucial since Finance Minister Jaitley had said that some names will embarrass the Congress Party. “What has happened to those names? Why are the names of politicians not being revealed?” he asked.
Congress also joined in with spokesperson Sanjay Jha saying the action Monday was in stark contrast to the BJP’s election manifesto that had promised to bring back black money speedily.
“The BJP had promised to bring back black money in 100 days if they came to power. During the campaign for general election they had promised people to reveal all names who had put illegal money in foreign banks,” Jha told IANS.
Senior Congress minister Salman Khurshid said cherry-picking names on the list was wrong and immoral. “The government should disclose all the names on the list to the court as per law,” Khurshid said.
India has no official estimates of illegal money stashed away overseas. But the unofficial ones range from $466 billion to $1.4 trillion.
Industry did not react, but a day before the affidavit, leading chamber Assocham had Sunday said premature disclosure of names of Indians with allegedly illegal bank accounts abroad will hurt India’s battle against black money.