In a major step forward in the black money case, the Central government on Wednesday submitted before the Supreme Court a list of names of Indians having accounts in foreign banks.
In total, the Centre has placed before the apex court in a sealed envelope names of 627 Indians who have accounts in overseas banks. It may, however, be noted that all these 627 Indians may not have black money stashed abroad – some of these individuals’ accounts may be legitimate.
The apex court bench headed by Chief Justice HL Dattu refused to open the sealed envelope saying that the documents be placed before the Special Investigation Team (SIT) appointed by it.
Only SIT chairman and vice chairman can open the sealed envelope containing names of account holders, the court stated.
The SC also directed the SIT to evolve its own procedure on the kind of probe needed into these accounts and also to evolve the process on how to get the black money back.
Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi told reporters after the hearing that the government has informed the SC the deadline for investigation and assessment under the Income Tax Act into these accounts is March 2015.
Rohatgi, who placed the list before the SC, said there are some 627 or 628 names in the list. This is the same list which the Central government had already handed over to the SIT on June 27 earlier this year, the AG added.
Rohatgi said that details of account holders are of year 2006 which were supplied by the French government to the Centre in 2011. All these accounts are held in HSBC Bank, Geneva, he added.
According to him, the names are from a list stolen by an HSBC employee from Switzerland.
Of all the names submitted before the SC, more than half are Indians while rest are of NRIs, to whom the Indian Income Tax Act does not apply.
Rohatgi further informed that the government today submitted three sets of documents before the apex court, which include the names of Indians holding foreign bank accounts, these individuals’ foreign bank account numbers, the amount of money held in these accounts, the status report on assessment of these accounts by the SIT till date, and government’s correspondence with French government.
“The SC has allowed us to state our problems regarding foreign treaties etc before the SIT, which will submit a status report on its probe before the top court by November 30, 2014,” Rohatgi said.
The entire list was submitted a day after the apex court directed the Centre to furnish the names of all individuals and entities in its possession who have accounts in overseas banks, legitimate or otherwise, in connection with the black money case.
The SC directive came after the government on Monday gave the court the names of seven individuals and one company, alleging they had funds in bank accounts abroad over which proceedings had been initiated for tax evasion.
Soon after the court’s directive, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had said that the names as sought by the Supreme Court had already been given to the SIT appointed by the government at the behest of the apex court.
The primary purpose of this exercise is to ascertain who among the individuals and the entities named hold such accounts in contravention of Indian laws and what kind of proceedings can be initiated to prosecute them and get back any ill-gotten money.
India has no official estimates of illegal money stashed away in bank accounts overseas. But the unofficial ones range from USD 466 billion to USD 1.4 trillion. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has promised to get back such “black money”.
Meanwhile, also today, the apex court did not allow the plea of AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal to provide additional information on the issue to the SIT, saying that it will consider his plea on next date of hearing on December 3.