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`Black money in foreign banks plunder of nation`

The SC today came down heavily on the Centre over the issue of black money.



New Delhi: The Supreme Court today pulled
up the Government for witholding information on blackmoney
stashed in foreign banks, saying it is not just limited to tax
evasion but a "mind boggling crime" amounting to "theft" and
"plunder" of national wealth having security ramifications.

"It is a pure and simple theft of the national money.
We are talking about mind-boggling crime. We are not on the
niceties of various treaties," a bench comprising justices B
Sudershan Reddy and S S Nijjar said when the Centre contended
that it was case of tax evasion and it cannot make public the
names of Indian account holders.

The court made it clear that it was not happy with
Government`s approach on the issue. "This is the problem which
is worrying us. It is not only about tax evasion and has
something more," the bench said after it was pointed out that
the source of these money might be narcotics, terror fund or
arms dealing.

It was contended before the Court that even the former
National Security Advisor M K Narayanan had expressed
apprehension that the money stashed in tax havens abroad might
have some terror linkage.

The court was hearing a petition filed by noted
criminal lawyer Ram Jethmalani, who along with some retired
bureaucrats and police officers, approached it seeking
directions to the government to take steps to bring blackmoney
to the tune of one trillion dollars stashed in foreign bank
back to the country.

The bench was not impressed with the submission of
Solicitor general Gopal Subramanium who was explaining various
steps taken by the government under the Double Taxation
Avoidance Act and other treaties with various countries
including Germany and Switzerland.

It also disapproved of government filing an
affidavit restricting information relating to the money
deposited by 26 persons in Liechtenstein Bank in Germany.

"This is all the information you have or you have
something more?," the bench repeatedly asked Subramanium.

"We are talking about the huge money. That is the
plunder of nation," the bench remarked as the SG said he was
not in a position to disclose more than what has been said in
the affidavit.

The bench also expressed anguish over the fact that
the affidavit filed in a sealed cover and referring to 26
names, had been signed by a mere director-level officer and
said it should have been signed by the finance secretary
himself.

"Why not the Finance Secretary responded," the bench
said adding "it reflects the seriousness of the government".

"We thought one person who must have been authorised
to file the affidavit should have been the Finance Secretary
considering the seriousness of the matter," said the bench.

The solicitor general, however, tried to pacify the
bench saying that it is an established procedure that whenever
an affidavit is filed, it is with the concurrence at the
highest level.

Subramanium also accepted that the figure about the
black money stashed in foreign banks is mind-boggling, but
expressed limitation in sharing all information about it
saying that the authorities have to go on the basis of mutual
agreement with various countries where the money is stashed.

The bench also questioned the government for limiting
the information provided by it only to the Liechtenstein Bank.

"Why are you limiting the matter to the Liechtenstein
Bank only," the bench asked, when the solicitor general said
he was making submissions on averments made in the petition.

"What stops or precludes this court from expanding the
scope of this writ petition in public interest," it asked.

"The writ petition is not confined to one bank and
this is the issue about all money stashed in foreign banks.

There is no issue of confining the petition to one bank. All
we want is that you give all information about the money
deposited in the foreign banks by Indians," it said, making it
clear that the the issue cannot be confined to one of tax
evasion.

Senior advocate Anil Divan, appearing for Jethmalani,
said the government was concealing information on the issue
and so far it has only tried to cover up the mindbogling crime
by suppressing the materials from coming into open.

"How can the issue be restricted to one of tax
evasion. It may be some crime syndicate involved in depositing
money in foreign banks," he submitted.

"It is also not a question of tax evasion but stealing
of money from India. Where is the question of DTAA here. The
money may be for terror, narcotics or arms dealing," the
senior advocate submitted.

The plea of DTAA has been chosen with the malafide to
conceal information from public, he said.

Divan said the Government was also reluctant in
sharing information about the Pune-based businessman Hasan Ali
Khan who has stashed money to the tune of Rs 36,000 crore in
UBS Bank in Switzerland.

The Government was not proceeding the case in all
seriousness against Khan as it has been two years since the
Enforcement Directorate started probe against him without much
progress.

The Bench also said "as for Khan it is a matter of
concern. What type of documents you have about him".

Divan said it was a matter of concern why the
government was proceeding against him only under the tax law.

He said custodial interrogation of Khan was neccesary
to know for how many persons he has been the holder of benami
property.

After three hours of hearing, the Bench adjourned the
matter for January 27.

PTI

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