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Cornered govt to share black money info

Cornered govt to share black money info

Author: Dhananjay Mahapatra
Publication: The Times of India
Date: April 23, 2009
URL: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/India/Cornered-govt-to-share-black-money-info/articleshow/4436818.cms

The UPA government seems set to break this news to the Supreme Court by Friday -- it has got hold of the long-awaited secret data about account holders in LGT Bank in Liechtenstein, for long the safe haven for keeping money siphoned out of India and other countries.

Responding to a PIL by Ram Jethmalani and others, the Centre through additional solicitor general Gopal Subramaniam on Wednesday promised to explain to SC within 48 hours the "more than adequate" measures taken to tackle the menace.

A Bench comprising Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan and Justices L S Panta withheld issuing notice to the Centre on the PIL because of the pledge by the ASG.

The ASG was responding to the charge by the petitioners who also included KPS Gill, Subhash Kashyap, Jalbala Vaidya, Gopal Sharman and Prof B B Dutta that the government had been lethargic in trying to get information on the deposits in Liechtenstein which was sold by a former employee of the LGT Bank based in Germany.

But even as Subramaniam assured the Supreme Court of the bonafides of the government, he took a swipe at the "mystifying" timing of the PIL filed in the midst of the election campaign. "It is not a recent problem. It has definitely not cropped up during the electioneering but had existed for decades. Surely the petitioners did not come to know about it just now," he said. The remark was seen as alluding to the bid of L K Advani, BJP's prime ministerial candidate, to turn the issue of black money stashed by Indians abroad into a campaign theme.

The petition said: "A former employee of LGT Bank in Liechtenstein sold data on about 1,400 people to tax authorities across the world. After receiving the data, the German government initiated action against around 600 tax payers for possible tax evasion. It has reportedly offered to provide data to any country that seeks information."

"It is reported that the Indian finance ministry wrote letters to the German authorities in February 2008 and again in June 2008 seeking information about the Indian account holders. However, it appears that no information has been received from the Genram authorities. Apparently, the case has not been rigorously followed," the petitioners alleged.

Subramaniam rebuted the charge by saying that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had at the recent G-20 meeting said that the era of secret banking was over and had called for international cooperation to make operations transparent.

"We are in complete control of the situation," the ASG assured the court about the prompt steps taken by the Centre and said a day after the news story about Liechtenstein accounts appeared in the media on February 27 last year, the government had written to the German authorities seeking details of possible Indian account holders in the LGT Bank.

"The government received in last week of March data on account holders offered by the German authorities in a CD form," sources told TOI after Wednesday's hearing. This is likely to figure prominently in the soon to be filed affidavit in SC.

Prior to Subramaniam's presentation of the Centre's stand, senior advocate Anil Devan and T R Andhyarujina, appearing for the petitioners whom they referred to as "super senior citizens", said the US government's tough measures forced the famous Swiss bank UBS to enter into a deferred prosecution agreement with it and reveal the names of Americans who have stashed black money there. UBS has even agreed to pay $780 million as penalty to US, Devan said.

Refusing to be identified or branded as towing a particular political party line, Devan said the black money had been continuously stashed abroad because of the inaction of all political parties.

"All political parties are responsible. We do not want any individual's name. We want to know why not even a single individual has been caught till date and no action has been taken to counter the problem," he said.

The Bench, without issuing notice on the PIL, allowed the Centre to file its response within its self-imposed 48-hour deadline and posted the matter for further hearing on May 4.

- dhananjay.mahapatra@timesgroup.com

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