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UPA is shamed again

UPA is shamed again

Author: Editorial
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: May 6, 2009

SC demands action on Swiss accounts

Day after day, the UPA Government's cussed unwillingness to go after those Indians who hold illegal bank accounts in Switzerland and other secret banking havens becomes embarrassingly apparent. A petition moved before the Supreme Court has become the latest touchstone. Moved by prominent citizens, the petition sought to know what the Government was doing to unearth and redeem this black money, much of it is suspected to be receipts from bribes and kickbacks and, to some degree, corporate embezzlement. Instead of responding, Government lawyers painted the petitioners as 'political agents' and argued they were only echoing the BJP's position. On Monday, May 4, a bench headed by the Chief Justice of India rejected this position, defended the right of the petitioners to make their point and asked the Government to focus on the substance of the issue, not on personalities. In the case of the notorious Pune-based middleman Hasan Ali -and his wife and associate - the court asked the Government hard questions. Ali has millions in concealed bank accounts in Switzerland. However, the Government is prosecuting him only for tax evasion and possession of fake passports. This was a patent case for charges under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act. Action under the PMLA would have made it obligatory for the Swiss banking authorities to cooperate and reveal details of Khan's transactions. The Supreme Court expressed surprise that the Government had not acted correctly and has now given direction for the criminal investigation of the Pune-based fixer under this more stringent law. It has asked the Government to get back to it by July 20, by which time, of course, the UPA Government would have gone. Its primary task of protecting Ali and his political sponsors - among them senior UPA politicians, for whom he is suspected to have handled money - would have been served. If the new Government acts decisively, it will no doubt be accused, by an anguished Congress leadership, of 'harassment' of an 'innocent' man.

The Ali episode is only the tip of the iceberg. The Manmohan Singh Government has tied itself up in knots trying to explain why the BJP's arguments on Indian money lying in banking havens were actually flawed and a waste of time. There are three reasons for the UPA Government's conduct. First, its sheer arrogance and contempt for the Opposition led it to believe only it knew best. Second, the Congress is extraordinarily cynical and brazen when it comes to corruption issues and believes they hardly matter to the voter, who can be won over with patronage. Third, it is clearly protective of certain individuals. The UPA Government has been sophisticated in its corruption - a reflection perhaps of the new economic framework, where public contracts matter less than the policy-changing power of individual Ministries. Political corruption has moved from the era of suitcases and currency notes in mango baskets to discreet bank transfers to numbered accounts. In the case of Ali, it was one strongman who was being looked after. In the case of another powerful Minister - believed to have unexplained properties in France - the motivation is perhaps similar. What this adds up to is a thoroughly compromised political machine. The Congress cannot move on corruption because it fears it will be trapped by any honest investigation. Indian money in Swiss banks is only the symptom. The disease lies in the heart of Lutyens' Delhi.

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